Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said potential cash handouts to students should be of differing amounts, catered to different needs, rather than a fixed sum for all.
The government is expected to report a surplus of more than HK$140 billion in Wednesday’s annual budget. Several media outlets including Now TV and i-Cable cited sources as saying that the government was not inclined to conduct cash handouts, but will give HK$2,000 to grassroots students who qualify for student subsidies and tuition remission schemes.
Around 220,000 students from kindergarten up to university level could benefit. The scheme will cost around HK$600 million with handouts beginning at the start of the next academic year in September.
Ip said on a Commercial Radio programme on Tuesday that there are practical advantages in giving cash to grassroots students: “But it may be relatively small candy.”
He said students at different levels have different needs: “University students may need to pay for internet and they may dine out more, their needs may be bigger.”
“Primary school or kindergarten students who may not go out a lot have a different situation. It is an interesting question as to how the amount of HK$2,000 came up.”
He also suggested the government could help purchase digital tablets and subside internet fees for grassroots children, as well as increase funds for university research, better facilities and improved teacher training.
He said it was a good initiative but the scheme may not be in line with public expectations.
“People are thinking that we have such a large surplus, maybe we can make a bigger move such as a universal pension scheme,” he said.
“The middle class may expect tax and land rate rebates. Compared with these expectations, I believe HK$2,000 is relatively small.”
In 2011, then-financial secretary John Tsang launched a scheme whereby permanent residents aged over 18 could receive a one-off HK$6,000 payment. The plan was devised following criticism of his original proposal which involved injecting the sum into Hongkonger’s Mandatory Provident Fund pension accounts. The programme – which was not means tested – cost around HK$36 billion.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog post on Sunday that the government has to use public resources reasonably and prepare for the future, amid rumours of cash handouts. For instance, he said resources should be spent on improving healthcare when there is a large surplus.