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Insider's Perspective

Increased Provision of International School Places


Ms Wendy Chung

Principal Assistant Secretary for Education (Infrastructure & Research Support)


     The Government facilitates the development of a vibrant international school sector mainly to meet the demand for school places from overseas families living in Hong Kong and families coming to Hong Kong for work or investment.  Through allocation of vacant school premises, greenfield sites as well as support for in-situ expansion of existing international schools, the number of international school places has in fact increased by over 30% from 29,740 in the 2000/01 school year to 39,680 places in 2013/14.  There are about 35,580 students studying in international schools in the 2013/14 school year.


     Based on the position of the 2011/12 school year, a consultancy study, commissioned by the Government, projected that there would be a shortfall of around 4 200 primary places in the 2016/17 school year.  In light of the projected shortfall, we have, as the first phase, allocated three vacant school premises in April 2013, which are expected to provide 1 150 additional primary places and 210 secondary places by 2016/17.  In addition, subsequent to the consultancy study, Harrow International School Hong Kong, which is now offering 440 primary places and 390 secondary places, commenced operation in the 2012/13 school year.


     Two vacant school premises and three sites in the Southern District, Sai Kung and Tai Po have now been identified to further increase the supply of international school places.  Invitation for expression of interest was issued on March 31 with a view to ascertaining the development needs of the international school sector and the interest in the sites and premises identified.  Notwithstanding that the total additional supply of school places this allocation exercise can bring about can only be ascertained in the light of the proposed development plans selected for the three sites, the two vacant school premises alone are expected to already increase the supply of primary places by another 1 200 primary places by 2016/17.  With the above, the projected shortfall would be reduced to less than 1 500 primary places by 2016/17.  We would commission consultancy study to track the projection on future demand and supply of international school places on a more regular basis to facilitate future planning and the next round of study is expected to start later this year.


Specified Ratio of Local and Non-local Students


     Under the prevailing policy, international schools (with no boarding facilities) receiving government assistance in the form of vacant premises or sites are required to allocate at least 70% of the school places to target students who hold foreign passport (except the British National (Overseas) Passport) or student visas for entry into Hong Kong for studies.  The earlier requirement was at least 50%.  To better accommodate the needs of overseas families, this requirement has been raised to at least 70% since 2009.  In the upcoming allocation exercise, favourable consideration will be given to proposals accepting a higher proportion of target students (say, 80% of the total student population or above).


     The requirement on student mix applicable to international schools vis-à-vis Private Independent School (PIS) may worth more elaboration, as it is often misunderstood, and mixed up.  PISs, majority of which offering non-local curriculum, are to serve primarily the demand for school places from local families seeking an alternative to public sector schools.  There are 9,935 students studying in PISs offering non-local curriculum in the 2013/14 school year.  With the above policy objective in mind, PISs are required to ensure that at least 70% of the student population is Hong Kong Permanent Resident (HKPR). 


     According to our records, both international schools and PISs have performed well in terms of achieving the “planned” student mix.  Currently, 85% of international school students hold foreign passport and are classified as non-local students while 87% of PIS students are HKPR.  In particular, according to our annual enrolment survey, no individual international school has 80% local students as some have alleged.


     There are suggestions that we should raise the threshold of non-local students in international schools further to 90%, or simply copy the Singaporean way which bars Singaporean citizens from enrolling in international schools.  However, before comparing the policy of Hong Kong with that of Singapore in this aspect, we need to bear in mind the difference between the two places in terms of our history, as well as the needs of and languages commonly used by local residents.


      With the unique history and development of Hong Kong, children of returning emigrants or overseas families who have settled in Hong Kong may possess both HKPR status and foreign citizenship concurrently.  It is arbitrary to conclude that these children should not study in international schools solely because of their ethnicity or residence status.  In addition, we need to respect parental choice and uphold the freedom of choice of schools for local families who wish to have their children learning in an environment outside the public sector school system at their own cost.  On the other hand, some chambers of commerce have in fact pointed out that the prevailing international school system in Hong Kong which allows a mix of local and non-local students is preferred as the students could acquire a truly international experience immersed in the local culture.


Market-driven Operating Mode


     In terms of Government assistance, in addition to greenfield sites granted at nominal premium, PISs (but not international schools) are eligible for a capital subvention for the construction of school premises.  Both international school and PISs, however, do not receive any recurrent subvention from the Government and are operated on a self-financing basis.  Land and premises are, as appropriate, granted or leased to international schools and PISs, for an initial term of ten years.  Renewal of grant or tenancy is subject to quinquennial performance review of the international schools and PISs. 


     International schools and PISs receiving Government assistance (including in terms of provision of land or premises) must be non-profit-making. They also have to reaffirm their non-profit-making status annually in the audited accounts submitted for our scrutiny.


     There have been claims which ascribe the fees charged by international schools to the limited supply of international school places.  We in fact need to take into account the modus operandi of international schools which, different from public sector schools, is self-financing and market-driven.  Given the diversity in operation of international schools, it is inappropriate to subject them to a one-size-fits-all formula in the setting of tuition fees.  Rather, the Government adopts an individualised approach that respects the unique circumstances of each international school.  International schools are required to seek Government’s approval for any fee adjustment under Regulation 65 of the Education Regulation.  They need to justify their fee adjustment proposal by its explicability, benefits to students, whether the schools demonstrate sound financial position and its impact in enhancing students' learning.  Support from parents and other stakeholders and schools’ satisfactory response to parents concerns are also valid consideration factors before we grant any approval. 


21 April 2014

Last revision date: 21 April 2014
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