ESF - English Schools Foundation

We can give way on funds, E.S.F. says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am

The English Schools Foundation (ESF) is ready to make concessions in return for continued financial support from the government, according to chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing.

The authorities proposed in July that the English-language school system, which receives HK$284 million a year, should consider turning private in the long run, amid concerns about whether public money is being effectively spent.

Tong (pictured) said yesterday he hoped the subvention would continue but admitted that officials were determined to overhaul the system.

'They are determined to say that ESF is a [historical] legacy.'

Asked what level of subsidy the schools operator would accept, Tong replied: 'Even if it's HK$150 million, I would be very happy.'

He said he hoped the authorities would spell out soon whether next year's subsidy would remain the same because the ESF had to review its tuition fees.

Last week Tong urged parents of ESF students to e-mail legislators, journalists and senior government officials to express their support for continued government funding and for the subsidy to match what is given to aided schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme.

'The ESF is not a legacy,' he said. 'It has served Hong Kong in a valuable way.'

He cited a recent internal cost review that showed that if the subvention was scrapped, tuition fees would have to rise by 27 per cent, more than stated earlier by other ESF officials.

Fees for this academic year are HK$63,000 for primary children and HK$95,100 to HK$97,100 for secondary pupils.

A foundation spokeswoman later said the HK$150 million mentioned by Tong was not the bottom line and negotiations were continuing.

The ESF and the government remain deadlocked in negotiations aimed at deciding the future of the foundation by the end of this year, with the changes due to take effect in September next year.

Chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said the ESF was willing to make concessions such as changing the admission policy to make it easier for local students to enter. But she ruled out fee remission rules that applied to Direct Subsidy Scheme schools, such as setting aside 10 per cent of tuition fees for scholarships.

Tong said another possibility was setting up two sets of tuition fees under which children from the local community could pay less. About 70 per cent of ESF students are children of permanent residents.

There have been calls for subsidies to be slashed for foreign students but there are also calls to maintain subsidies to meet the needs of expatriate children whose parents cannot afford private school fees.

In July, Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung described the ESF's funding issue as a problem arising from a historical legacy that needed to be resolved.

Discussions are taking place amid mounting concern that a shortage of international school places could be deterring companies from setting up in Hong Kong.