Education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung warned secondary schools yesterday that the government could take 'extraordinary measures' if not enough schools join a voluntary class-reduction scheme. Suen said more schools had to reduce the number of classes under the scheme - announced in March - to put a stop to the closures caused by falling student numbers. Just 23 schools had signed up for the voluntary scheme by its first deadline in April - well short of the target of more than 100 the government says is needed to make the programme work. 'We have rolled out the measures to ease the crisis and more programmes are in the pipeline,' he said. 'If schools still [refuse] to use them, the inevitable [school closures] will happen. Extraordinary measures might be needed.' Under the scheme, a participating school will admit four classes of Form One pupils, one fewer than at present. No teachers will be fired for five years, by which time the number of students is projected to rise again. As an incentive for joining the scheme, a school will receive extra funding of HK$250,000 a year. Schools will be able to apply to increase the number of classes they run when student numbers bounce back. The number of Form One pupils at government and aided secondary schools is set to fall by 7,000 in September, with 62,000 pupils transferring from primary schools. The fall in enrolments, which began in 2008, will likely continue until September 2017. Other schemes have recently been introduced to ease the school closure crisis that has hit the primary sector in the past few years. One of those encourages schools operated by the same sponsoring body to merge. Another urges schools to transform from mainstream to alternative education providers. Now, schools must enrol a minimum of 61 students or risk closure. Suen said schools had been 'inactive' in the reduction scheme. 'The blows to the secondary sector [because of the shortfall in numbers] will be painful,' he said. 'If more schools are willing to join the scheme, the [crisis] will be easier to tackle.' Chau Hau-fung, chairman of the Sha Tin District Secondary School Heads Association, said its member schools had mostly been co-operative with the plan. 'Four schools joined by the first deadline. More will join before the second deadline in August next year,' he said. Suen also said the government would push the development of the private university sector. 'We encourage [future private universities] to strengthen their bonds with corporations,' he said. Six parcels of land have so far been made available for this purpose. But Suen noted new universities should not run courses already on offer and should 'consider offering new subjects like tourism and courses for sports injuries'.