Leung to boost subsidies for kindergarten

Chief executive expected to have good news for associate degree holders, but those seeking international education may be disappointed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 4:12am

More subsidies for kindergarten education and extra university places for associate degree holders are among the initiatives expected to be announced by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address on Wednesday.

But new initiatives to ease the shortage of international school places, especially at primary level, are less likely to feature, sources with knowledge of the government's education plan say.

Education is likely to be a key feature of this year's policy address, with Leung expected to increase the value of kindergarten vouchers by about 10 per cent, from HK$17,510 per child to about HK$19,200.

Some 722 preschools were covered by the voucher scheme this year.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the government should offer greater subsidies for children attending full-day kindergartens, where costs are higher than at half-day preschools.

In terms of tertiary education, the highlight of the speech is expected to be an increase in the number of subsidised university places for holders of associate degrees, from 4,000 to 5,000 per year.

Associate degrees are a popular option for students who miss out on a university place after secondary school as they offer a pathway to a full degree later.

Based on the HK$233,000 subsidy offered to each student in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, the cost would be HK$233 million per year.

But Civic Party legislator Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said an increase of 1,000 places would be no more than a drop in the ocean, as 28,000 Hongkongers graduate with associate degrees every year.

Leung may also kill off the plan to use the 16-acre Queen's Hill site in Fanling for a private university, allocating it instead for public or subsidised housing.

Chan said the site, which is hilly and close to a military barracks, was more suitable for a university than housing.

"I don't feel very good about changing the plan," he said. "How can the government fulfil its ambition to become an international education hub by ignoring the need for private university development?"

Local and expatriate families looking to give their children an international school education may also be disappointed; Leung's speech is expected to take a vague and general approach to international school places, despite warnings from international business groups that a shortage could affect the city's ability to attract talent.

The Education Bureau said last year that there would be a shortage of about 4,200 primary international school places by 2016. The government last year granted three sites for the development of international schools, which will provide more than 1,000 places.

But Chan said other measures were needed as the gap between supply and demand kept growing and new international schools became less affordable.

"What's the point in creating more places if nobody can afford them?" he asked.

Leung is also expected to announce the first ever plan to fund lessons in Chinese as a second language for ethnic minority pupils at mainstream schools.