MARGARET Kwok has served Hong Kong's education system for 17 years, 11 of them as a secondary school teacher and six as a lecturer at the Hong Kong Technical Teachers' College. But with the incorporation of her college into the new Hong Kong Institute of Education from Thursday, she faces the prospect of a compulsory transfer to the Education Department, perhaps to a junior position, perhaps even as the subordinate of her own former students. ''My morale will be destroyed,'' she said. She Mang was a school inspector, promoted on the same day in 1990 as one of his colleagues. The two chose different career paths: his colleague became a senior inspector, while he became a senior teacher training lecturer, jobs of equivalent rank and salary. Now, with his college also being incorporated, Mr She, like Mrs Kwok, faces compulsory secondment to the new institute for up to five years after which, unless he applies for and gets a job on the new institute's staff he, too, will be transferred to the department. Mr She doesn't want a job with the new institute. It's to be an academic institution, emphasising research and publishing, rather than training teachers in small groups with lots of individual attention, he says. But still he gets no choice about working for it while it is being set up. During that time his career will be, in effect, on hold. And by the time he's transferred to the department, the colleague promoted with him will be five years his senior. It's not that Mr She, Mrs Kwok and their 440 colleagues in the four colleges of education and the Institute of Language in Education (ILE) are opposed to the creation of the new institute from their five institutions. Many are enthusiastic about it and doing all they can to make it work. Mak Chen Wen-ning, for example, went without a summer holiday to lead the group developing the new institute's curriculum. But Mrs Mak, a vice-principal at the Northcote College of Education, fears her efforts and those of all who've worked to create the new institute, will be undermined by the Government's handling of the lecturers' careers. ''This is an issue of social justice,'' she said, explaining her support for the industrial action that more than 90 per cent of lecturers who belong to the Association of Lecturers at Colleges of Education and their ILE colleagues begin today. ''The contractual relationship between the Government and its employees is what is at stake. Not everybody will suffer - a lot of lecturers welcome the academic life and we respect that. I do, I am willing and ready to join [the institute]. ''But that does not preclude me from supporting the staff in getting the Government to protect the rights of its employees. ''It is not fair to the Hong Kong Institute of Education, because we want a good institution but what the Government has done will produce so much unnecessary unhappiness among staff. Even those who don't suffer will find it unhappy. They will be working with people who are being forced to work there.'' The new institute arose out of the Education Commission report number five in June 1992. The Government accepted its plan for an autonomous institution under its own ordinance, to be modernised and offer an international standard degree course. In February last year it announced a provisional governing council and in October announced the appointment of Professor Leung Chi-keung, head of geography at the University of Hong Kong, as its first director. But it wasn't until mid-July this year - when they were called to a briefing, despite many being on holiday - that the lecturers learned details of their fate and not until July 22 that the formal plan was released. The new institute has offered jobs to 274 of the 328 lecturers who applied for them. It has turned down 10 and 44 withdrew or haven't yet had their interviews. The association estimates that those who are turned down or who don't want to go to the new institute will eventually total about 200. Under the Government's plan they will all have to work for the institute for its first year and can be retained by it for up to five years. No voluntary redundancy is being offered. After their stint at the institute, they will be transferred to the Education Department. And though the Government's plan says they will be considered for a comparable rank, they might be placed in a job at a lower rank, keeping the same salary but losing seniority. And whichever rank they are placed at, they will enter it at the bottom of its promotion scale, regardless of their present level. The lecturers were appalled. They held a demonstration outside the Education Department office on July 14 and made five demands: no compulsory secondment before arrangements such as bridging from the old to new institutions and secondment were worked out to their satisfaction; lecturers to keep their promotion prospects while on secondment; their preferences to be given first priority when they were sent back to the department; comparable ranks and all years of service counted in the transfer to the department; and voluntary redundancy for those not wanting to go to either the department or the institute. ''We are not asking for any extra benefits or any compensation,'' said the association's president, Lai Kwok-chan. ''We are saying, 'can we retain our existing conditions and service?' '' The Government says it's simply sticking to the civil service regulations and can't have the lecturers jump the queue of existing department staff wanting promotion, Mr Lai says. On August 13 the Government issued an initial response to their demands in question and answer form. But it has made no formal response, other than to say it is considering improvements to the package and will put a plan to the Executive Council next month. The action was decided on at an emergency general meeting on August 22. The Government's lack of a response and the fact the lecturers would be expected to start working for the new institute before their package was resolved or the new offer even revealed means ''we have to show our colours'', Mr Lai says, ''there has been a breach of trust''. Mrs Kwok said: ''They neglect us and ignore what we propose and leave us feeling insecure with no morale.'' The lecturers decided to stop helping select students, stop covering administrative duties and to hold no formal lectures from August 30 to September 7. The ILE lecturers are taking action in support. On Friday the institute's director, Dr Leung, held a press conference to announce it would delay the start of some courses in response to the action. He refused to comment on the department's handling of the staff transfer or the dispute. The lecturers meet today to announce details of their industrial action. And they have also been called back to their colleges by the department to receive and sign for a warning letter, threatening to dock their pay if their industrial action goes ahead. ''We will line up and sign one by one to show our commitment,'' Mr Lai said. The lecturers say they are not taking action lightly, but they can't stand by and allow the Government to ignore their years of hard work and loyal service, arbitrarily reducing seniority, killing promotion prospects and destroying careers. ''I think we should have the moral fibre to stand up to the Government and say, 'you are wrong', because they are setting a very bad example to employers in Hong Kong,'' Mrs Mak said. ''We have to do a lot of civic education of our students - how can we take this as an example? We expect better from Mr Patten after all his views stressing open and fair government. ''We are on strong ground. The case is just.''