French concern over lack of school places in HK
Official tells chief secretary that wave of young expats is creating 'pressure' in education system
A French official raised concerns about the lack of international school places for expatriates' children in Hong Kong at a meeting yesterday with Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
Helene Conway-Mouret, the senator for French nationals abroad, said in a press briefing after her meeting with Lam that education was one of three key factors the French would consider before moving to a new country.
The other factors were good consular services and security.
"Hong Kong is attracting well-educated, young, dynamic French people who are obviously at the age when they will be having a family. There is further pressure, if you like, from an educational point of view," she said.
Conway-Mouret said she and Lam also talked about a HK$20 million annual grant for research between French schools and the University of Hong Kong, along with a working holiday scheme.
"Cultural links between France and Hong Kong" Video by Hedy Bok
Since last year, the American, British and Canadian chambers of commerce have warned that the shortage of school places could weaken Hong Kong's status as a financial hub. Conway-Mouret is visiting Hong Kong this week to discuss the needs of French expatriates as part of broader moves by newly elected President Francois Hollande's government to enhance consular services for 2.5 million nationals worldwide.
She and French Consul General Arnaud Barthelemy said the Hong Kong consulate had for some years been looking to expand slots at the government-run French International School (FIS) by 300 more places.
"It's an old project [that has] been discussed for quite some time," said Barthelemy.
The FIS currently has around 2,000 students. But it cannot accommodate potential students among the 15,000 French nationals in Hong Kong, as well as Hongkongers hoping to study at an international school.
Further, there are around 700 French companies in Hong Kong, according to the French consulate, whose employees' families may also need places.
The consul general said they were discussing a few options for expanding school places with the Hong Kong government, but that no consensus had been reached. He declined to elaborate.
The Hong Kong government says the overall occupancy rate for international schools - which is less than 90 per cent according to the most recent data - means there is no urgency for additional measures.
About 5,000 international- school places are expected to be available in the next few years as new schools are built and existing ones expanded.
The current shortage of school places comes as more and more young French people are moving to Asia, at a time when France is experiencing an unemployment rate of 25 per cent for those around the age of 25.
Conway-Mouret said the influx was not driven by unemployment, but by educational institutions encouraging the young to become more competitive by gaining international experience.
"And when they do [move], they find they like it here and want to stay. They're meeting their other halves," she said.