ESF - English Schools Foundation

ESF parents mull taking loss of subsidy to court

Concern group may turn to a judicial review although it will eat up much time and money

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 5:44pm

A group of parents may seek a judicial review of the Education Bureau's decision to phase out a subsidy for the English Schools Foundation if the legislature passes the plan next month.

Angie Lam, who has two children studying in ESF schools, said they had sought legal advice and were told that it would be a costly and difficult process.

"We understand a judicial review will cost a lot of time, effort and money. But we're still thinking about it," said Lam, representing the ESF Concerned Parents Group of about 20 parents. "It's a way to get justice."

On June 18, the ESF board voted to accept the government's deal to withdraw its HK$283 million annual subvention over 13 years from 2016.

The board agreed after reviewing parents' e-mails and holding two meetings that were attended by 34 parents, most of whom wanted to keep the subsidy although current pupils would not be directly affected.

Lam said two key arguments supported the seeking of a judicial review.

First, the government's policy of not helping schools with a non-local curriculum was biased, she said, as it gave money to direct subsidy schools such as Li Po Chun United World College, which also has a non-local curriculum.

Lam also said the move would cost the city its affordable English-language education and international appeal at a time while the government was paying out more as many parents switched to direct subsidy schools. The annual subsidy per pupil at direct subsidy schools was 61 per cent higher than for ESF pupils, she said.

Under the Basic Law, the government is to maintain policies for subsidising non-governmental organisations that were in place before the handover, but it can use its discretion to improve those policies.

"We really want to know how abandoning ESF students can help improve and develop the existing educational system," Lam said.

Education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen noted that the foundation had been given the choice of becoming part of the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which is regulated by the government, or becoming an international school - and it had chosen the latter.

Lawyer and lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan said that as long as the government's decision was not completely unreasonable, it would be very difficult for the judge to agree with the two arguments because it was up to the government to make that decision. He estimated that the cost of bringing the case to court would be more than HK$1 million.

The plan will be put to the Legislative Council on July 9.