CLASSROOMS could become more crowded and waiting lists longer at international schools if the Government succeeds in boosting enrolment rates to match those in government schools. The Education Department aims to have all schools - government and international alike - operate at 95 per cent of capacity by 2000, as recommended in a July 1995 working-group report on international schools. Expatriate parents and international-school educators argue such tight enrolment rates are unsuitable for international schools, which see student ranks rise and drop unpredictably. 'The turnover this year has been higher than in previous years,' Canadian International School principal Neil Johnston said. 'In this kind of situation, we must have more vacancies [than a government school might have]. Otherwise, parents will arrive in Hong Kong and there will be no room at the inn.' The overall enrolment rate for international schools and schools belonging to the English Schools Foundation was nearly 77 per cent last year, well below the government target. Even so, students were unable to find places at certain schools and in certain year levels. This has serious economic repercussions. For example, members of the American Chamber of Commerce ranked school-place shortages among their top five concerns about doing business in Hong Kong for five years, from 1990 to 1994. An international-school administrator said he had been told some foreign executives had refused jobs in Hong Kong three or four years ago, when school-place shortages were quite acute. At that time, however, enrolment rates did not even approach 85 per cent. 'A 95 per cent rate will make it very difficult for visiting expatriates and returning Chinese families,' Chinese International School administration manager Paul Cabrelli said. 'It would make it very difficult for multinationals to bring in families.' Mr Johnston said the problem was the Government aiming for an overall enrolment figure. Classes for older secondary-school students often had vacancies while classes for early primary-school pupils tended to suffer shortages. All primary classes are full at Chinese International School; a few places are available for older primary-school children at Discovery Bay International School; and there are no vacancies for four or five-year-olds at Canadian International School. English Schools Foundation schools are full for some levels in some areas. Mr Johnston said that instead of targeting an overall enrolment rate, the Government should study supply and demand for each academic year. Li Man-wah, the Education Department's officer with responsibility for international schools, said the Government was concerned about possible shortfalls in certain grades and would monitor immigration trends. She said 2000 was not an absolute deadline. 'But if there is a need [for school places], the market will fill that need,' she said. It is doubtful, however, whether the schools can respond quickly enough. Raising funds is a slow process, as is building classrooms. 'The reality is that when your child needs to go to school, you are not going to wait a week,' Mr Johnston said.