Education minister admits Hong Kong faces crisis on international school places
Minister admits city faces a shortage of 4,200 places by 2016, with business bosses warning Hong Kong could miss a ‘golden opportunity’
Dennis Chong and Gary Cheung
The city is expected to face an acute shortage of 4,200 international primary school places by 2016 despite a planned expansion in the next five years, the education chief said yesterday.
The shortage will hit expatriate parents and those planning to relocate to Hong Kong.
Many are already complaining of problems having their children educated, despite the official line that places are available.
It is the first time the Education Bureau has acknowledged that demand could exceed supply in the next few years.
The British Chamber of Commerce said the city could miss a golden opportunity to develop as an international hub by catching an influx of talent from the West due to uncertain economic conditions in Europe and North America.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim told Legco that by 2016 the city would need at least 4,200 more places at primary international schools.
The estimated increase accounts for 11 per cent of the 37,000 primary and secondary international school places currently available, including 16,900 in secondary schools.
Officials say only 89 per cent of current places are taken up.
"Next year we target to have 1,000 more places. We hope to do it year by year," he said.
But British Chamber of Commerce executive director Christopher Hammerbeck said there was already a shortage of places.
The problem had "defeated" the business community as it affected both people who now live in Hong Kong and those planning to move here.
"This is not an education issue any more. It's a business issue. This is a strong case for adding facilities," he said.
One senior European diplomat said: "We have been looking for an international school place for my son in the past few months, but to no avail. I have to leave my family in the country where I was based before relocating to Hong Kong."
Civic Party legislator Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said Ng had failed to implement the policy manifesto of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who pledged to find solutions to the problem.
The government has said there will be an increase of 5,000 international school places in the coming years, but that includes secondary school places and places that will be available only in the longer-term.
Meanwhile, the bureau has put up four abandoned school venues for bidding by international school operators.
But the sites may be filled by two existing schools, Elsa High School, which is Jewish, and the International Montessori School, whose temporary lease in Tin Hau will run out in a few years.
Legislators say the government has a moral responsibility to let existing schools take the sites so that hundreds of pupils will not face eviction.
However, granting existing schools the right to use the site would reduce the number of new primary places to be made available. The business community is already complaining of long waiting lists at international schools.
It indicates that the issue is a one of the prime concerns of investors, after pollution.
The American Chamber of Commerce reported earlier this year that the shortage was most acute on Hong Kong Island.