International schools in Hong Kong

International schools become hot property in Hong Kong

Agents say there’s a growing demand for private education in Hong Kong, especially from the mainland, which means a rise in need for appropriate space

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 2:30pm

Demand for privately owned international schools is expanding fast in Hong Kong, leading more developers and investors to view the education sector as an growing alternative source of income.

John Mortensen, regional director for health care and education services at JLL, now believes there are as many 15 education providers looking for space to expand their operations or set up new campuses in the city.

“At least six international schools have approached us,” he said, “some with strong financial backing from institutional investors, meaning they are interested in buying premises, rather than just leasing”.

“Some are old British schools, with more than 200 years of history,” he added, but there is also growing interest from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand operators.

The expansion has gained speed since the government stopped allocating sites for international schools in 2015.

That policy shift was based on a government study which highlighted there has been no shortage of international school places for foreign passport holders in recent years.

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A spokesman from the city’s Education Bureau, told South China Morning Post, “the policy will remain in place until further notice”.

International schools can apply for special government grants to buy land, as long as they fill at least 80 per cent of their places with non-local children.

Independent public schools have no such restrictions, meaning they can cater for the increasingly affluent local student market, but they do have to buy or lease space for their campuses, meaning a growing demand for such property.

Victor Lai Kin-fai, the managing director of Centaline Surveyors, said such aggressive expansion in international schools is aimed squarely at catering for mainland students.

“Many mainland parents are willing to pay premium fees for top public schools in Hong Kong.”

Cognita, which operates the Stamford American School, paid HK$673 million (US$85.74 million) for the former New Method College in Ho Man Tin in 2016, for instance. The school charges annual tuition fees of about HK$165,900 for kindergarten to grade 5, according to its website.

Stan Tang, chairman of privately run Stan Group and the son of “king of shops” Tang Shing-bor, has also emerged as one of a number of local property investors hotly pursuing the public school market.

He had planned to bring in a major British international school brand into the nine-storey Riviera Plaza in Tsuen Wan, which his family bought for HK$823 million in 2015.

A Stan Group spokesman said half of the 411,100 square feet shopping centre, which is still empty, is planned for the public school.

“But the project is still pending government approval,” he added. “No definite date for the opening of the school so far.”