Li may cut ESF's subsidy if he finds it 'wasting money'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 12:00am

Education chief Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has reaffirmed his determination to review the subsidy received by the English Schools Foundation, a move that has sparked fears among parents that fees could increase by up to 40 per cent.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post he said: 'I want to see how efficient it is using money from me and parents. If I find the ESF is doing perfectly well and is not wasting a single cent then the subsidy will remain.

'If it is doing more than that I will consider raising it. But if there are cost-cutting benefits to be achieved I have every right to ask why it can't be reduced.'

He questioned why ESF teachers' salaries had not been reduced in response to deflation and complained that the foundation had been 'poaching' teachers from the government's Native English Teacher scheme. 'It is offering better packages than the NET scheme,' he said. 'There are also international schools that tell me they have teachers poached by the ESF. They are very angry about that sort of thing.'

He repeated that there should be a 'level playing field' between the ESF and other international schools that did not receive government support.

He also said that any reduction in government support - worth about $300 million for the current academic year - should not necessarily be passed on to parents in increased fees. The Lantau International School, he said, managed to charge less than the ESF without any subsidy.

'I am actually very alarmed and surprised at the reaction. People are not thinking through the logic and rationale,' he said.

The ESF has said that if it lost the grant, which accounts for about 40 per cent of its expenditure, it would have to raise fees to help cover the shortfall.

The ESF issue was raised by Professor Li a month ago but there has been no formal contact over it between his bureau and the foundation. 'We will get our facts and figures first before we approach the ESF,' he said.

John Tustin, the ESF's human resources director, said: 'We have to ensure that salary packages are attractive enough to compete in a diminishing market of teachers, particularly in the UK, so as to preserve the high calibre of staff in the ESF.'

All teachers were now hired on local rather than overseas contracts, he said.

The ESF had recruited 'one or two' NET teachers a year. They were English teachers who accounted for only a small proportion of the specialisations required by the ESF, he added.

'There is nothing deliberate in our recruitment policy. We advertise locally and internationally.

'It would be infringing on personal liberties and international recruitment practices if we prevented certain staff from applying,' he said.

ESF parent-teacher associations have launched a survey of parents to find out how they would be affected in the event of a fee increase and what alternatives they would have if they could no longer afford ESF schooling.