My Take

A competitive city or an easy touch?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 2:45am

Is Hong Kong's competitiveness really being eroded by the lack of international school places? This is the rallying cry that the international business chambers periodically sound when they demand more schools and places.

Lack of space prevented me from addressing this issue in yesterday's column when I argued for a single school system for locals and expats. Now let me tackle this issue head on.

Firstly, it's usually taken at face value that we don't have enough international school places. This is despite some 50 international schools already in operation and several new ones that are coming on stream over the next few years.

In the aggregate, it's not true we don't have enough places. What is true is that competition for places at primary level is much fiercer than for secondary. One reason is that many expat families leave before their children are old enough to enter secondary school.

But even at primary level, queuing could be eased if government bureaucrats relaxed funding rules, so more top-notch local direct-subsidy schools could admit foreign students.

What happens is that ambitious parents compete for the most prestigious international schools. The fierce competition for those select schools means parents apply to several at once, causing longer waiting lists. The lists are then used by the chambers as evidence of a lack of places!

The American Chamber of Commerce has reported that the shortage is most acute on Hong Kong Island. Well, try Kowloon or the New Territories!

But we need to make it easy for those super-talented expats, the chambers say. Or else they won't come and our economy will suffer! Just how easy exactly?

Perhaps the chambers can provide examples of major international firms that suffered personnel problems and had to relocate to another city because of a lack of school places.

A former English Schools Foundation official once told me how an HR officer at a top US investment bank complained that her boss from New York would not budge an inch unless a luxury flat and car, elite club memberships and schools for his children were all ready in Hong Kong.

That's a problem for the bank, not our taxpayers or the government.