ESF - English Schools Foundation

HK$500,000 schools debenture scheme slammed for favouring rich

HK$500,000 charge to reserve a school place for children slammed as elitist by education lawmaker and concerned parents group

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 10:01am

The English Schools Foundation's new debenture scheme, which will charge parents HK$500,000 to reserve a school place for their children, has been criticised for unfairly favouring rich students over the poor.

Starting next month, local and foreign parents wishing to reserve a place for 2013 and beyond at ESF's primary and secondary schools will have to pay the non-refundable fee for each child, who will be given priority placement should they meet the admission requirements.

Newly elected education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the scheme was skewed towards wealthy families, and he questioned why the government did not intervene in the matter.

Ip said the plan looked more like a practice by a private school rather than a government-subsidised body such as the ESF.

Hans Ladegaard, from the ESF Concerned Parents Group, said he was "appalled" to learn of the new Nomination Rights scheme, which would take away places that could have gone to less-well-off families.

"It is basically saying that those who are not loaded with money should not come to Hong Kong anymore," he said.

While the laws that regulate ESF allow its schools to raise money, Ladegaard said the foundation's management should "use its conscience".

He also said the debenture "sent a wrong signal" that ESF schools were now privatising.

But ESF chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing maintained yesterday that ESF had no intention of going private. He said the new scheme was the only way for it to raise the funds to maintain and refurbish ageing school buildings, and to keep school fees at a level that parents could afford.

He added the plan would not affect existing students and their siblings. "Under our admission policy, siblings whether of past or present students have priority. And this priority is ahead of the nomination rights," Tong said.

The ESF chief said the scheme only applied to 150 places, out of more than 1,000 available every year.

"Of the 150 there will be a small number available for Year 1," Tong said. "And we still have the other places under the old system available to all parents where they don't have to pay anything."

He added that the foundation was still in talks with the government on increasing its endowment, to bring it to the level of direct subsidy schools.

The government decision is pending on a review of its annual HK$283 million contribution to the ESF. The foundation contends that Direct Subsidy Scheme primary and secondary schools receive double and 85 per cent more, respectively, than their ESF counterparts.

In a policy paper in July, the Education Bureau called for a higher level of scrutiny over the operation of ESF schools and urged the school to consider the possibility of being a self-funded institution.

Ip, meanwhile, added that when the Legislative Council session resumes, he would raise the issue of the lack of English-medium school places and the inundation of international schools with local and mainland children.