The English Schools Foundation (ESF) may launch a corporate nomination rights scheme to make up for its financial losses as the government gradually cuts its subsidy.
Companies would be able to pay to reserve school places for the children of employees.
From 2016, the foundation's long-frozen HK$283 million annual subsidy, or subvention, will be phased out year by year, over 13 years, until 2028-29.
In announcing the news yesterday, ESF chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing said it had no choice but to accept the Education Bureau's decision.
Chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said: "We did what we could and got the best arrangement we could for parents and students."
She said a few companies had indicated interest in purchasing nomination rights to reserve school places, but no final decision had been made.
The ESF introduced a similar scheme on a limited scale last year, allowing local and foreign parents to pay a non-refundable fee of HK$500,000 to reserve a place for their child, who would be given priority placement should they meet admission requirements.
Reduced government support means fees at the ESF's 20 schools and kindergartens will rise by 23 per cent for new students from 2016. Current pupils and those about to enter its kindergartens will not be affected.
With the increase, fees for primary pupils would exceed HK$84,000 a year compared with HK$70,000 for the coming year. But that will still be lower than a number of popular international schools, which now charge more than HK$110,000 a year. "Our secondary school fees are currently at average and will still be in the lower two-thirds [compared to other international schools]," said Tong, expressing confidence in ESF schools' competitiveness.
A bureau spokesman said: "Continual provision of recurrent subvention to the ESF flies in the face of the government's policy of not providing recurrent subsidy to schools mainly running non-local curriculum."
Others, however, strongly believe in the subsidy. Public policy consultant David Dodwell said: "By offering local families more choice, and by delivering consistently excellent results, ESF schools force schools teaching in Cantonese to do better."
Janice Chu, whose daughter attends Sha Tin College, said: "The subvention represents a kind of support for a sound educational model that develops students' international outlook and self-confidence, besides English language skills."
A single mother whose son is in Year 9 at West Island School said she felt sorry for future parents. "Not everyone is on expatriate deals or has corporate support. I have to find the fees."