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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 11:26am
NewsHong Kong

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.


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This article is now closed to comments

middle class people are easy scapegoat specially at the hands of the government
People shouldn't blame the ESF. The government is trying to reduce the subsidy even though it is in fact an insufficient amount. If a higher amount of money is given to the ESF per year, they wouldn't have to resort to such drastic measures.
Why do people blame the ESF for all HK school ills? It seems as though the ESF is a convenient scapegoat. Blame the HK government that refuses to invest in quality English language education for government schools, or blame the government and DSS schools for selective entry while still being subsidized by the government at a much higher rate than ESF. ESF only has 15 schools in total. It cannot take in the children of all HK families that would like an English language education for their children.
At any rate, in one or two years, the government will likely decide to further reduce government spending and the ESF will become completely private, or it will increase funding and insist that all or almost all student places go to permanent residents. The ESF would in this case become a local school board and many of the native English speaking students would transfer to the international schools for a more international school environment.
"But ESF chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing maintained yesterday that ESF had no intention of going private." Of course not. Let us continue getting funds from Hong Kong taxpayers who can never afford to send their children to an ESF school while we continue to cater to those well-ff who can afford our fees and debentures. Here is one more way in which wealth is transferred upwards.
As I understand it, every school in Hong Kong is granted a lease for its land, either at a nominal rate or at no cost at all. No school is paying for the use of its land. Further on the comment below, the ESF government funding is a fraction of what government and Direct subsidy scheme schools receive, so the term 'unjust' is applied inappropriately. You might argue that the government is being unjust to the ESF.
ESF cost more to run than government schools partially because they employ experienced, foreign qualified, native English language teachers. English is supposed to be an official language in Hong Kong and the most of the students in the schools are from Hong Kong.
If you want to argue that all DSS and ESF schools should be self-funding, fine, but the policy ought to be fair to both school 'systems'.
English Schools Foundation's new debenture scheme is "UNJUST", it must not be allow, unless ESF no longer gets an annual HK$283 million contribution. Even then, there are still issues of existing land that they enjoy at zero-to-below-market-value.
I do not believe that the ESF Concerned Parents Group's opinions reflect the views of the majority of ESF parents. This small group's views are very unrealistic. Given Hong Kong's high inflation and the dramatic increase in flat rental prices in recent years, school fees have to be increased. At 30 students per class, class sizes cannot be increased and teacher salaries cannot be made uncompetitive. Further, ESF does not have the money to maintain and replace its school buildings and the government is unlikely to ever pay the majority of the cost of replacement structures. As the international schools expand, and open new buildings and facilities, ESF will suffer greatly in comparison. I agree that money has to be raised. The choice is privileged access for the rich few, or higher fees for everyone. I think a fee increase for everyone is the fairer option. Today's students and parents are benefiting from past investment but they (at least the so-called Concerned Parents Group) do not want to pay their fair share today.
What a ridiculous argument. the fact that 150 students get priority for school places only IF their parents can afford HK500,000 just reflects how unfair the system is!


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