Hong Kong's education minister, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, has angered students and educators by suggesting that fees for secondary and university education should increase.
Five years after the former colony returned to China, it is reeling from an economic downturn and now a budget deficit of HK$70 billion (pound;5.84bn). Professor Li is looking to make savings of about 5 per cent in education.
Hong Kong provides nine years of free, compulsory education up to age 15.
But for the remaining four years of schooling students in aided and government schools must contribute 18 per cent of the cost. Fees range from HK$5,050 to HK$8,750 a year, though there is a remission scheme for the needy.
Professor Li said that fees had not been increased since 1997 so should be reviewed. Grants for those from low-income families and low-interest loans would be maintained.
Professor Cheng Kai-ming, pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong and a key member of the former colony's education commission, condemned the possible cuts. "Parents need to feel protected and safe in the economic crisis, because education is their hope," he said. He added that it was unheard of in advanced countries for students to have to pay fees for upper secondary education.
The Federation of Student Unions has condemned the cuts for denying young people equal access to education.