ESF - English Schools Foundation

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am

The real trouble with those pesky 'historical legacies'

Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung raised a few hackles recently with his comments that the funding issue surrounding the English Schools Foundation (ESF) was, 'a problem arising from a historical legacy, which needed to be resolved'.

It is true that the ESF was set up by the former British colonial administration to provide education essentially for the children of English expatriates who worked for the Hong Kong government. Unlike most international-type schools, it receives a government subvention, arising out of its statutory underpinnings, though it still charges significantly high fees. Its subvention was cut during the Asian financial crisis and frozen at that level following government findings that it had misused its funds on entertainment and extravagant hiring procedures. As costs have risen in recent years, the government has been under pressure to increase its subvention to ease the pressure on parents. Suen's response has been that a way should be found to make the ESF self-funding. It may well be true that the ESF's situation needs to be resolved and that it be made to function like other private eschools. But to seek justification for this approach by describing it as a 'historical legacy' - ie. something that has been foisted on the present government as a result of its colonial past - is a bit rich. There are many 'historical legacies' permeating the Hong Kong government that the civil service is in no hurry to 'resolve', least of all the array of allowances and benefits such as medical expenses, housing allowances, overseas education allowances - to name a few. These 'historical circumstances' have resulted in the Hong Kong civil service being one of the best-paid services in the world. Organisations including the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong have complained that the civil service is ridiculously overpaid when compared with the private sector. Local civil servants appointed before 1996 are still being paid to send their children overseas to be educated. Some HK$300 million was allocated for this 'historical legacy' in last year's budget to benefit about 3,000 children.

So, while the historical legacy relating to the ESF needs to be resolved, the historical legacy relating to the civil service does not. History, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Spare a thought for Luanda

Hong Kong may seem expensive, but other places are even more so, according to consultants Mercer International. Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expatriates, while Karachi is the cheapest, according to the firm's annual cost-of-living survey.

Tokyo remains in second position and N'Djamena, Chad, in third place. Moscow is fourth, with Geneva fifth and Osaka coming in sixth. Zurich jumps one position to seventh, while Hong Kong drops to ninth from eighth last year. Singapore jumped from 11 last year to eighth, Seoul dropped from 14 to 19 and Beijing fell from 16 to 20. There were dramatic jumps in Australia as a result of the almost 14 per cent gain in its currency against the US dollar.

New Delhi (85) is India's most expensive city, followed by Mumbai (95) and Bangalore (180). Elsewhere in Asia, Jakarta ranks 69, Hanoi 136, Bangkok 88 and Kuala Lumpur 104. Karachi (214) is the region's least expensive city.

The survey covers 214 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. New York (ranked No 32, from 27 in 2010) is used as the base city and all cities are compared with it.

... and speaking of surveys

The contest for the wackiest, most spurious, attention-grabbing survey continues. The latest from Regus is one that 'surveys' businesspeople for 'the most unusual thing they habitually take on a business trip', the company says in its press release. Some 33 per cent of Hong Kong businesspeople took fitness gear and swimsuits - though it's hard to see why this should be viewed as odd. Just for the record Australians - 47 per cent - excelled in this category, with Japan being the lowest with 14 per cent.

Hong Kong travellers stood out, though, their penchant for taking family photographs with them, along with cleaning and disinfectant products. More Indians - 11 per cent - liked to take a religious text, while 29 per cent of Japanese liked to take a gift for their host.

Regus, when its not conducting silly surveys, provides what it likes to call 'workplace solutions' which, to translate, actually means serviced offices.