• Fri
  • Jul 25, 2014
  • Updated: 9:52pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 2:11am

Decision to end ESF subsidy a lesson in Machiavellian ruthlessness

Shock and horror! Fees for schools under the English Schools Foundation from 2016 will be at least 23 per cent higher as the government phases out the public subsidy.

But you would expect that. The die was cast once the Education Bureau announced it would phase out the current subsidy. You want to know how much ESF parents will eventually have to pay? Just check out the fees of other international schools.

The decision to end the subsidy after freezing payment for a decade may go down in history as one of the most ruthless made by this administration. But before you pick up your pitchfork and bay for blood, it's not entirely the fault of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his education secretary, Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Of course it is their fault for allowing it to happen. But I am actually not sure they know what they are doing with the ESF in the sense they almost certainly did not come up with the policy decision - those immediately below Ng within the bureau did.

There is an almost Machiavellian elegance to the decision - if you discount its irresponsibility, unfairness and immorality. You can be sure our clueless Mr Ng would never come up with something so clever; this is reserved for the senior administrative officials within the bureau, not a few of whom - I bet - are, or were, ESF parents.

Let's see what this decision really means. Taxpayers' money will be saved. The ESF is certain to prosper, as it will be able to charge high fees and million-dollar debentures on a par with other international schools. The government can claim it is helping to boost international school places without lifting a finger. It is also a populist decision as many local families resent the real or perceived special treatment given to the ESF as an old colonial institution.

But it is never explained why it is no longer the government's responsibility to support affordable education for non-Chinese-speaking children of residents or permanent residents. Nor is it clear why local families should be left to their own devices once they leave the local system and join the international school sector.

But the reality is that these families are on their own unless they can pay the high school fees.


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Autonomy with regards to admissions => DSS schools can opt out of the government's central admissions system and select their own students from their pool of applicants, using a selection procedure they see fit.
Ms Cheng's letter => I am not familiar enough with St Stephen's to say anything sensible about the specifics of the case.

But let me say that students are diverse, and we want to have a diverse school system to serve them, not a one-size-fits-all approach. In that context, schools should have incentives to be better, compete for the highest quality, and a fully-funded government school becoming a DSS school is part of that.

I agree, we do want to balance such incentives with equality of opportunity and accessibility, and I understand Ms Cheng's concern that the introduction of the school fees (around $3000~4000 per month) will reduce the school's accessibility for lower-income families.

However, there exists already since long an extensive means-tested financial support system for students in DSS schools that addresses this issue. All DSS schools have to spend at least 10% of their school fee income to create scholarships for gifted yet financially strained students. Moreover, the more expensive DSS schools also need to use 50% of school fees charged that exceed the amount equal to the 2/3rds of the DSS subsidy they receive (which is about 50k per student per year).

We can argue over whether these already fairly aggressive scholarship rules are enough, or if even more should be done. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater; the DSS has proven to be a very successful, practical and sensible policy. Let's continue to strengthen and improve it.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply
I think we differ
in proportionality and not in category
The ESF made a choice. Despite 10-years of negotiations with the EDB, they refused to budge on one key point: they want to continue preparing pupils for UK and IB exams. To quality for the DSS subsidies, schools need to be preparing pupils for Hong Kong (and IB if they wish) exams, not for UK ones.

You can't expect the government to subsidise schools that don't prepare for Hong Kong exams.

True to its name perhaps, he ESF chose to stick to its UK exam basis, and apparently also increasingly so for the big money. Had the ESF wanted, they would have been more than welcome in the DSS system, which is very accommodating. They could have taught the way they wanted, remain entirely EMI of course, have an independent admissions policy, set their own school fees, continue to also teach the IB curriculum, and so on.
But they weren't willing to budge on the Hong Kong exam part, and chose to stick to UK exams. It is only logical then the subsidy gets phased out. We don't subsidise other international schools that prepare for the French, US or mainland Chinese exams either. It would be an untenable situation if we started doing that, especially with regards to the mainland Chinese exams.

And yes it is a big loss, and yes I too wish it was different, but it is the ESF's stubborn refusal to change that is to blame the most, not some alleged conspiracy by the government that has tried for 10 years to find a solution.
[Deleted - please ignore]
The main point is that there is a huge unmet demand for international-style English-medium quality education from the entire Hong Kong community, local and expatriate, and the government has outsourced that to the private sector, which in turn is charging eye-watering fees because of limited competition.
A responsible government policy would be to create enough ESF-like school places to satisfy local and expatriate demand, either by expanding dramatically the ESF or creating a wholly government-funded educational offering modeled on the ESF.
But then, actually giving Hong Kong parents what they want isn't what the Education Bureau is there for, is it?
That is a good analysis, and I agree. The money that will be saved by the phasing out of the ESF subsidises should be redirected to existing and possibly new DSS EMI schools that offer a the kind of education for which there is obviously demand, albeit then based on the Hong Kong and IB curriculum rather than the UK one that the ESF (mainly) offers.
Re your non-query about
“why it is no longer the government's responsibility to support affordable education for non-Chinese-speaking children of residents or permanent residents “ and “why local families should be left to their own devices once they leave the local system and join the international school sector”
Perhaps AL is expecting new family members in addition to MBF
But ESF should never be the only alternative
There are far better ways to take care of those in need
As I commented on today’s news on the same topic:
ESF is innately incapable of being an honorable recipient of public subsidies
Maliciously, it
(1) pretends being HK’s only English-medium school
(2) perpetrates segregation through discrimination against Cantonese speakers,
whom the colonist fear, using language as the pretext
(3) promotes its hypocritical band of double standard as a fair game
(4) divides society by forming a weird community of overpaid employees and pampered students
(5) admits companies and not just children for admission to its subsidized “education”
…. (N)
For the next 13 years and more,
esf should
learn to be graceful, and
teach its parochial community gratitude
Urban kid
There goes affordable education for the children of expatriate children! I would like to remind the ESF and the Government that not all expatriates who choose to work in Hong Kong have company allowances. A very bad day for Hong Kong as it will ultimately affect Hong Kong's competitiveness.
Government currently pays 80% of the fees for Government servants whose children are in ESF.
I presume this will be phased out also since the Government are not hypocrites?




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