Loan plan for schools revived
Dennis Chong and Ada Lee
An unused government loan scheme to help international schools expand is to be revived, amid concern that a lack of school places may be keeping foreign talent from the city.
No school applied for the interest-free loan scheme, launched in 2008 to fund construction of campuses. Nevertheless, legislators have learned that the Education Bureau will revive the scheme, seeking money through the Legislative Council's finance committee in March or April.
However, Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of the Civic Party said money was no panacea for the shortage of international school places, which she blamed on a lack of land.
Meanwhile, a Repulse Bay school is facing opposition from the neighbourhood over its expansion plan.
Under the loan scheme, international schools may receive financial help to develop buildings, similar to the grants given to aided schools, a bureau spokeswoman said.
'The loan is capped at 100 per cent of the cost of constructing a public-sector school of standard design accommodating the same number of students,' the spokeswoman said.
However, Eu said the government had not yet provided a solution to solve an imbalance in international school places. It is believed that the strongest need is for primary-level places on Hong Kong Island.
She said the government needed to make available more land for schools. 'Apparently, funding is not the key problem,' Eu said.
The scheme is to be discussed at the Legco education panel meeting this month. The scheme may be announced as early as today, during the budget speech, sources say.
It was reported in November that the city's top international schools were swamped with applications and were facing record waiting lists. The German Swiss International School, for example, said it had received 1,673 applications for 126 vacancies.
Hong Kong International School, facing opposition to its multimillion-dollar redevelopment plan, agreed to lower the height of its 18-storey building - but only by one floor.
Parents and Repulse Bay residents have said the new building may block views from their homes and worsen traffic. Some worry their children at the school will not receive the same quality of education during the redevelopment work.
According to documents the school submitted to the Town Planning Board yesterday, the height of the building would be reduced by 6.5 metres to 114.95 metres, and only 63 flats would be built for staff members instead of 70.
'We have recently made changes to the design in direct response to feedback from our Repulse Bay neighbours; we are listening to their comments and acting on them,' school head Kevin Dunning said.
In addition, the existing building at South Bay Close will continue to operate for another year before it is demolished. This means pupils will move to a temporary campus in 2013 instead of this year. The completion date for the new campus will be delayed by a year, to 2016.
The school also delayed its planning process last year amid strong opposition.
Anna Ha, Repulse Bay resident, said the reduction of just one floor showed the school had failed to take views fully into consideration.
Southern District councillor Fergus Fung Se-goun said he would meet residents next month.
A native English speaker recently told the Post she failed to get her son into kindergarten despite calls to more than this number of schools