ESF chairman to push government for subsidy hike
Carlson Tong Ka-shing says his priority as the new chairman of the English Schools Foundation (ESF) is to negotiate with the government for extra funding and for more school places to serve the city's high demand for teaching in English.
Tong, 56, this week succeeded Professor Felice Lieh Mak and will serve for three years.
He said the ESF had begun to discuss its subsidy with the government and that, in light of inflation and increases in teachers' pay, he would 'try to get as much as I can'.
'It's time for the government to review the funding mode for ESF. The government subsidy has been frozen for 10 years, but the number of students has increased and there is inflation, so the subsidy per student has actually come down.'
The foundation received HK$283 million from the government for the 2009/10 academic year, down four per cent from HK$295 million it received a decade ago.
However, the subsidy for each primary-school pupil has fallen to HK$17,819 for the 2009/10 academic year from HK$23,505 in 1999-2000, a drop of more than 24 per cent. The subsidy for each secondary pupil has fallen to HK$23,990 from HK$32,205 over the same period, a drop of just over 25 per cent
The ESF has applied for an average fee increase of 2.8 per cent for primary and secondary pupils in the new academic year, which Tong said was unfortunate and unavoidable.
'ESF's success rests on quality of teachers, whose salary makes up 80 per cent of our expenditure. Teachers' salary increase has to fall in with inflation, which is 4 per cent, so that they won't leave us.'
ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said tuition fees covered only a small part of the foundation's capital costs.
'We hope the significant part will come from the government,' she said.
A number of refurbishment projects are under consideration.
'We will build new blocks with modern science laboratories and a block for performing arts at King George V. For Kowloon Junior School, we will rebuild one of its two present sites on Perth Street. The biggest [project] will be the rebuilding of the Island School, which was built at the end of the 1960s.
'We need to see what sort of government support will be given for the rebuilding of the school as it's a huge project, costing around HK$800 million.'
Tong also said the ESF needed to discuss with the government the role the foundation played in Hong Kong.
'How important are we? How much are we worth? We not only serve foreign students, we also serve a lot of local students. If the government gives us more subsidies, we don't need to increase fees,' he said.
Tong, who has a 22-year-old son with mild mental disabilities, whom he adopted as a three-year-old, said he would give extra attention to the ESF's special-needs education.
'Special-needs education is resource-demanding and costly. But it's good for children to mix with people from different backgrounds. My own children are more tolerant after we have adopted a disabled brother.'
The foundation has 140 places at primary and secondary schools for special-needs children, with another 60 places available at the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School.
Du Quesnay said the ESF would provide 50 more places for special-needs children within three to four years. 'There's probably 80 to 90 children on the waiting list [for special-needs places] at the moment.'