ESF - English Schools Foundation

Stop dragging feet on ESF funding

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am

Write something about the English Schools Foundation to the Post's letters page and you will start a heated debate among our readers for sure. That says something about how sensitive the issues are confronting the foundation's schools in post-colonial Hong Kong.

The latest issue is the level of government funding the foundation receives. That is no idle debate. Public subvention is at the heart of the matter about the future of the ESF and its place in Hong Kong. There should be an honest, open debate about it.

The present level of public funding, which has not risen for a decade, is unsustainable. It is well below other direct-subsidy schools, the schools with funding structures most similar to the ESF's. Without a bigger subsidy, the high cost of running ESF schools means tuition fees will rise continuously. They are already approaching the levels of some international schools.

The alternative, often raised by those who harbour anti-ESF sentiments, is to cut public funding completely. That would make ESF's institutions fully-fledged international schools. But it would go against the legal mandate to which the foundation and the government are bound.

Paradoxically, that would likely prove a boon for the ESF. Given its professional management and record of academic excellence, it would be able to compete with the most prestigious - and expensive - international schools. The only victims would be current families who could not afford much higher fees.

The government needs to make a decision: increase funding or cut the ESF loose. But it is dragging its feet because either move will be controversial. And the chief executive is near the end of his term and the education minister is near retirement.