While Hong Kong is trying to lure overseas students to help boost the education sector as an economic pillar, a legacy policy, which cost taxpayers some HK$370 million last year, is encouraging two-thirds of the civil servants to send their children abroad for education. Up to 107,588, or 66 per cent of the 164,000-strong civil service, are eligible to receive an overseas education allowance. These include civil servants, whether or not they are expatriate officers, who were recruited before August 1, 1996 and earning more than HK$8,144 a month. A spokeswoman for the Civil Service Bureau said the allowance could cover 90 per cent of the school tuition and boarding fee of up to GBP6,450 (HK$81,400) a year for junior school, or GBP7,437 a year for senior school students. Qualified civil servants can send up to four of their children between nine and 19 years of age to attend a school on a full-time basis in Britain or 'a country of their origin'. Only 3,202 or 3 per cent of those eligible are actually claiming the allowance. Of these, 120 are directorate officers. Some HK$369 million was paid out from the public coffers to meet this obligation in the 2008-09 financial year. Political appointees, such as bureau directors, undersecretaries and political assistants, do not receive any education allowance, a spokeswoman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said. Li Kwai-yin, vice-president of the Chinese Civil Servants Association, said not all eligible officers would claim the benefit. 'If a civil servant's income is insufficient to support a child overseas, they would not apply for the allowance,' she said. Li said the policy could not be abolished now as the government must honour its contractual obligation towards those who were still serving. 'The policy has ceased for new recruits, so it is a dying issue,' she said. The spokeswoman for the civil service bureau said the spending on overseas education allowance had dropped from HK$544 million in 2006-07 and HK$500 million in 2007-08. In the current financial year, the total spending on the civil service was HK$52 billion. 'The policy was introduced in 1964 when there were insufficient educational facilities to meet the demand of English-speaking children in Hong Kong, and the scheme enables children of expatriate civil servants to continue their education in their countries of origin,' the spokeswoman said. The scheme was extended to local civil servants in 1972 on parity grounds. With the improvements in the city's educational facilities and opportunities, the government decided in 1993 to stop the allowance to civil servants who were offered appointment on or after August 1, 1996, the spokeswoman said. President of the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants Steve Barclay said the policy change should not be a problem if the total remuneration package was sufficient to cover officers' various needs. 'But the value of the total package has diminished over the years,' Barclay said. He was concerned that the government would be losing highly qualified staff to the private sector. Aruna Alimchandani, director of sales and marketing, human resources and legal at recruitment consultant Hudson Global Resources (Hong Kong), said the education allowance was normally offered to top overseas recruits in the private sector, such as general managers or managing directors receiving an annual salary of about HK$2 million. Even so, the amount would be calculated on the basis of the cost of local primary or secondary education in international schools, she said.