HK government allocates 3 new sites to boost international school places

Three new sites allocated, but legislators accuse the government of catering only to the wealthy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 8:03am

Three vacant school premises will be turned into international classrooms to create 1,700 places, the government said yesterday.

This follows criticism from business chambers and other observers that a lack of school places for expatriate children is harming the city's reputation as an international commerce hub.

However, some lawmakers have accused the government of catering only to the wealthy in its latest decision.

One site in Stanley was granted to the International Montessori Education Foundation, which will be able to expand from its current site in Tin Hau.

Carmel School, a Jewish school, will occupy a site in Shau Kei Wan, while Nord Anglia Education, a British company, will establish its first school in Hong Kong at a campus in Lam Tin.

Education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen said the government was transforming the sector for the "blue blood" without looking at problems in the local system.

The Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said schools must not cater for only 1 per cent of the population.

Amanda Chapman, chairwoman of the NET teachers association in Hong Kong, said: "It is extremely disappointing that the government is only doing things for the very rich and is not helping the middle-class expatriate families."

Under a government allocation scheme, land is offered to operators at a nominal premium along with interest-free loans for construction and development. The three sites were offered amid reports that the city is short of 4,200 international school places, based on preliminary findings of a survey commissioned by the government.

The Education Bureau said it received 34 applications in the allocation exercise, which had also put a fourth site, at the Ping Shek Estate in Ngau Tau Kok, up for grabs.

Officials were still identifying an eligible operator to run this site, the bureau said.

Nord Anglia Education, a company controlled by investment firm Baring, said it was delighted to get the site. CEO Andrew Fitzmaurice said: "We are thrilled to receive such an endorsement from the Education Bureau. We recognise how important Hong Kong is as an education hub and our organisation's central office relocated here 18 months ago."

The government has had several schemes to allocate government land for international school operators in recent years, to raise the provision of international school places to 38,000. But many places are taken by local and mainland children who hold foreign passports, making it increasingly hard for parents to find a place for their children.

International Montessori co-founder Anne Sawyer said the Stanley site would provide 700 places, but added that the school had 800 pupils on its waiting list. The school earlier faced a threat of eviction from its Tin Hau campus when the government said it wanted to turn the site into flats for young people.

Chan said he welcomed the decision to grant the Stanley site to Montessori because it was a well-established "home-grown school". But he urged officials to release full findings of the survey on place availability, adding that studies were needed on affordability of international schools.

Ip criticised the government for building more schools for the private sector without looking at core problems in the local system. Such schools would be in more demand and increasingly cater for the wealthy, he said.

A bureau spokeswoman said it considered all the applications on the advice of the School Allocation Committee.