International schools that reserve at least 80 per cent of places for non-local children may be given priority in the government's land grant scheme, an education official says.
Wendy Chung, principal assistant secretary for education, said yesterday on the Education Bureau's website that the government would not be following suggestions to increase that proportion to at least 90 per cent.
International schools currently operating are required to have at least 70 per cent non-local pupils - although the average proportion is 85 per cent, according to Chung.
Last month, the Education Bureau earmarked two vacant schools in Ap Lei Chau and Tai Po and three undeveloped sites in Tseung Kwan O and Tai Po for international primary school development.
Successful applicants usually enjoy a nominal rent or land premium and interest-free capital loans.
The move is set to relieve an expected shortage of 4,200 primary international school places by 2016 - a shortfall partly caused by an increasing number of local parents choosing international schools for their children.
The two vacant schools are expected to provide 1,200 primary international school places by 2016. Together with other schools in the pipeline, it should help limit the shortage of primary places to 1,500 that year.
Chung said it was important to leave places for some local children in international schools, and it would be "arbitrary" to ban children of returning emigrants or overseas families with permanent Hong Kong residency.
"In addition, we need to … uphold freedom of choice for local families who wish to have their children learning in an environment outside the public sector school system at their own cost," she said.
But Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said affordability was a big problem and if the additional supply meant more "elitist places", it would not help expatriate or returning emigrant families who belong to the middle or lower-middle class.
He said that in return for granting these schools cheap land, the government should have a say in determining the level of fees they charged.
Chung countered that the schools were self-financed and market-driven.