Hong Kong depends on attracting skilled people from overseas and their families to maintain its competitive edge as an international finance centre. An education in English, the global language of business, should therefore be well catered for. But foreign corporations have been pointing out for some time that this is not the case. Newcomers have often found it difficult to secure international school places quickly for their children. That can be our city's loss when it results in talented people deciding not to take up job offers here. Approval this week for four new sites for international schools that will provide 3,500 places goes some way towards tackling the problem. As you would expect of the region's premier financial centre, Hong Kong already has dozens of international schools, from those run by the English Schools Foundation to others that follow the curriculums of a wide range of systems. The problem is that the government, understandably, has been focused on wide-ranging reforms of the local education system. As a result it has not been geared either for rapid changes in business circles that drive up demand for international school places, or the rising education expectations of local parents. Over the years the number of international corporations based here has grown, bringing foreign staff who expect international school places for their children. But they have found themselves at a disadvantage because Hong Kong parents seeking a more rounded, flexible approach to education than in the local system have flocked to international schools to enrol their children. International schools have hitherto baulked at greenfield sites in preference to remaining close to their main catchment areas on Hong Kong Island. The allocation of four sites in Kowloon and the New Territories, three of them for existing operators, therefore marks a breakthrough. So does the choice of Britain's famous Harrow School as a new operator at Tuen Mun. The presence of international schools in fast-developing districts such as Tuen Mun and Sai Kung, and older areas like Lai Chi Kok and Kowloon Bay, will help boost their status by encouraging middle-class families and professionals to move in. Harrow's location and provision for nearly 300 boarders seems geared to the future potential of the growing numbers of wealthy parents in the Pearl River Delta. This would require a ban on recruiting students from the mainland to be relaxed. A report from the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre - a think tank widely believed to be close to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - has proposed that the city develop as an education centre and attract students from the delta region. The government has already suggested that a range of schools should consider taking in boarding students. This would apply to private independent, direct subsidy scheme and international schools, which generally maintain a high level of English-based education. Attracting students from elsewhere as boarders enhances our city's international connections. It also gives departing expatriate families - or for that matter local families going abroad - the option of leaving children behind if they moved to places where education standards were not comparable. If education is to play its important role in attracting and keeping the best foreign talent, the government must work closely with the international school community to see that we do not lose out to rival centres for want of educational opportunities for children.