The Hong Kong Institute of Education's quest for university status has been given a boost with an injection of funds to help it become a multidisciplinary institution. On Tuesday the Executive Council approved the provision of an extra 120 undergraduate places spanning three non-education disciplines and 30 research places, as suggested by the University Grants Committee (UGC) in a report in February on its review of HKIEd's development. Providing these extra places will cost HK$22 million a year. Education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung said yesterday the initiatives would boost teacher training. 'We understand HKIEd's teachers and students want to get a university title as soon as possible,' he said. 'I believe the current development plan is heading in this direction.' In response to the government's additional support, HKIEd chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and council chairman Pang Yiu-kai released a plan detailing development goals until 2012. Professor Cheung said they were confident that they would achieve their goal of becoming a university in three years. 'It's a very important day for HKIEd today,' he said. He said the education chief's public announcement of the additional support amounted to a green light by the government for the institute to pursue university status. HKIEd's quest hit a snag in February when the UGC deemed it was not ready for a title change and suggested a merger with another university would be the swiftest way for the teacher-training institution in Tai Po to become a university. The UGC report said that to become a university, HKIEd would need to offer at least three non-education degree courses and show adequate capacity to conduct research and train postgraduate students. 'The measures mean the government supports our chosen route to develop independently,' Professor Cheung said. Under the plan, three non-education disciplines - language and literature; creative arts and culture; and humanities and social sciences - will be created, with enrolment beginning next year and in 2011. Other measures include setting up a graduate school, expanding master's-level, self-financed programmes by 30 per cent, employing more professors and delegating management functions. 'We will also strengthen contacts with secondary and primary schools and kindergartens to boost our internship programme,' Professor Cheung said. But the Education Bureau said that the development of new programmes and the build-up of research capacity would not automatically lead to a university title. 'Before such a title is granted, HKIEd must be able to demonstrate that it possesses the qualities and attributes commonly expected of a university. Otherwise we will be degrading the value and meaning implied by a university title, and there will be adverse implications for the higher-education sector as a whole,' it said.