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English Schools Foundation

The English Schools Foundation (ESF) operates five secondary schools, nine primary schools and a school for students with special educational needs across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. It is the largest international educational foundation in Asia. 

NewsHong Kong

Exclusive: ESF warns school fees may rise from next year

The consequences of phasing out government's HK$284 million subvention may be felt in the next academic year, says foundation chairman

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 7:24am

The English Schools Foundation warned yesterday of big fee rises for new pupils as early as September after the government insisted it would phase out its annual HK$284 million subsidy.

The city's largest provider of education in English, which was established by the government in 1967, has been in talks with the administration over how it is run and the fate of its subsidy - known as a subvention.

ESF chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing said schools would have to impose two sets of fees when the subsidies were phased out over the next 13 years because the foundation had promised parents of current pupils their fees would be subsidised.

New pupils starting in years one and seven next year may be the first not to benefit from government funding, depending on the timing of a deal, Tong said. He said next year's fees for existing pupils would also be adjusted for inflation.

ESF primary school pupils now pay HK$66,100 a year, while secondary school fees are HK$98,000 up to Year 11, after which they rise to HK$102,000.

The foundation warned last year that fees could rise by at least 20 per cent if it lost its subvention. But Tong said it was too early to finalise the extent of the fee increase.

Despite the uncertain future, Tong said the ESF, which has about 13,000 pupils, would always strive to look after parents' interests and that "possible subvention under a new model was still under discussion".

He said the foundation's provision of special-needs education and Chinese-language classes for non-Chinese pupils were services that should be paid for by the government.

In a policy paper submitted to the Legislative Council, the Education Bureau indicated that it hoped the phasing out of the subvention could begin from the next academic year.

Legislator Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, asked how the ESF could justify its present level of subsidies given its strong asset portfolio.

According to the 2010/11 audited accounts on the ESF website, it owns property, part of which was valued at HK$2.1 billion in a review last year.

An ESF spokeswoman said that the portfolio was important to the foundation's long-term financial needs and therefore could not be sold off completely.

Christian Mueller, parent of a child at an ESF school, accused the foundation of "bad management" for asking parents to fund future projects while failing to build up appropriate reserves.

Even with the increase in fees, ESF schools will remain far cheaper than some of the city's private international schools, which can charge more than HK$170,000 a year, depending on which form a pupil is in.


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I have just arrived in Hong Kong from Mars as far as this debate is concerned (actually I have lived here a long time and it is my and my family's home).
How has it got to this sorry state of affairs?
No-one can argue the need to provide English-speaking and UK-oriented curricural education to 13,000 or so children in Hong Kong. Just as no-one can sensibly argue the need to provide similar French, American, Japanese, German, Korean etc. oriented education for people bringing their children to Hong Kong. We are selling ourselves as a "World City" (and we should) and this is part of being a World City.
But how come ESF has ended up in such a stupid situation? No other international school has as far as I'm aware. In fact several, such as French IS and Singapore IS have won major HK Govt support for recent expansion.
It seems a problem specific to ESF.
So, surely ESF management needs to change or needs changing?
I refer to the last paragraph that "ESF's fee remains far cheaper than other international schools". ESF has a class size of 30 while other international schools have a class size of 15. Also, most international schools have world class sports facilities in the school compound while ESF students need to take transport to public sports ground just to take a PE class. Considering the class size and the sports facilities, would you still think ESF fees are much cheaper?
West Island School does have an indoor heated swimming pool. How many other schools in HK have one?
"remains cheaper" counts only for those with poor mathematical skills. 500,000 joining fees for 15% of new places times x- number of years (plus some adjustments that we are used to with ESF) means in the not so far future all places will be filled like this. ESF don't need no government to phase out anything. ESF themselves are phasing out affordable English medium education. For an estimated average school attendance of 10 years, that is 50,000 p.a., plus the current fees = already today on levels of international schools. For those expats that stay for 3 or 5 years only = levels of HK Int'l School. All this based on free and own choice of ESF. Now having this in mind, plus the huge property portfolio (that probably no other company has in HKG other than the likes of Cheong Kong), ESF are in fact a rich organization. Although it is a disaster for HKG, how can anyone expect that the government would be able to offer any further subsidy??? ESF have fooled us all; they never planned (in recent years) to offer affordable English medium education, they simply wanted to get richer (by the 500k etc). The bad news for us middle class: They have no problem getting such money from enough rich parents...
Let's see what's next. When Carlson Tong started he declared himself his major task being an increase of subsidies, and achieving the opposite, I expect a major reshuffle at ESF's management.
Well said, paddy!
BTW, other private schools also do not rent multi-million HQs in Quarry Bay nor is involved in million $$ administrative hires for its HQ. These administrators and administrative charges now constititute not a small percentage of costs as opposed to the former inexpensive operation at its own premises on Stubbs Road...........
Neither do other private schools have to pay millions to a CEO who stays in swanky hotel suites.............
Neither do other private schools rent out their playing fields to their "private subsidiary outfits" depriving students of their legitimate rights to use that field...
Neither do other private schools suddenly halt existing A level Chinese programs which worked very well until ESF HQ decided to shove a new, half-baked, unproven, ill-timed ( GCSE will be phased out) GCSE syllabus down the students' throats............
The list goes on.
"Legislator Ip Kin-Yuen... asked how the ESF could justify its present level of subsidies given its strong asset portfolio" : does anyone know how much of this property portfolio is classified as investment property and can be sold off without impacting school operations?
Now it would seem a contravention of charter if the school ran a real estate investment scheme.
Hence if the school has "strong asset performance" due to owning land that's essential for operations, this misses the point : mark to market gains don't generate cash.


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