Student withdrawals during academic year ease at some elite Hong Kong schools, but 10 per cent rate persists

  • Eight prominent subsidised schools reviewed saw record-high exit rates over the past three academic years
  • ‘Most of the parents eager to emigrate may have already left’, according to Dion Chen, chairman of Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council

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Early exit rates reflect the number of students leaving during the course of the academic year. Photo: Dickson Lee

The number of students leaving some of Hong Kong’s most prestigious schools has dropped, but high departure rates during the academic year persist at around 10 per cent amid an ongoing emigration wave, the SCMP has found after comparing reports from 18 elite institutions.

According to their latest annual reports, three elite secondary schools – regarded as semi-private – that were in the direct subsidy scheme (DSS) and charged tuition fees, recorded high early exit rates at around 8 to 11 per cent, marking a slight decrease from the previous year.

At least eight prominent subsidised schools, out of the 14 reports checked by the SCMP, saw record-high exit rates for the past three academic years.

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The rate, voluntarily announced by schools, reflects the number of students leaving during the academic year.

Withdrawal rates at almost all 18 schools shot up in 2020-21 as the emigration wave kicked off, notably when Britain established the British National (Overseas) visa programme, a bespoke immigration pathway for Hongkongers.

The “semi-private” Hong Kong Baptist University Affiliated School Wong Kam Fai Secondary School topped the list with a 13.3 per cent exit rate, or 112 out of 844 students departing during the academic year, a slight uptick from 12.6 per cent in the previous year.

The student withdrawal rate in some prestigious government-subsidised schools hit a record high this year as people emigrated abroad. Photo: Nora Tam

It was also the only one – out of the four DSS schools checked by the SCMP – where withdrawals had risen.

Good Hope School, a DSS girls’ school in Wong Tai Sin, recorded a lower rate than last year, dropping from 13.1 per cent to 10.8 per cent. The school lost more than 100 pupils according to student enrolment numbers.

St Paul’s Co-educational College and Heep Yunn School, two other prominent DSS schools, also saw a slightly reduced rate at around 9 to 8 per cent respectively, a less than one percentage point decrease compared with the year before.

The dropout rate at government-subsidised St Joseph’s College in Mid-Levels also eased from 12.7 per cent to 11.6 per cent.

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Dion Chen, chairman of Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said he noticed the pace of emigration among Hong Kong families had slowed in the past year.

“Of course there are some families who may still want to leave but the number is not as high as before, as most of the parents eager to emigrate may have already left,” he said.

DSS schools had factored the student loss into budgeting and made conservative financial plans, he said, as the subsidy they received from the government depended on admission numbers.

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“When we look at the early exit rate, the reasons that students left may not only be because of emigration. Some students chose to study overseas while their parents stayed in Hong Kong, or students switched to other schools,” the principal of a DSS school said.

According to the UK government, nearly 90,000 Hongkongers applied for the BN(O) visa in the first three quarters of 2021, while the figure over the same period in 2022 dropped to nearly 50,000.

The student withdrawal rate, however, in some prestigious government-subsidised schools hit a record high this year.

Eight elite establishments, including Canossa College in Eastern district and St Paul’s Secondary School in Wan Chai among others, witnessed increased exit rates from nearly 3 to 7 per cent, up from previous levels of around 2 to 6 per cent.

Lee Yi-ying, head of the Subsidised Secondary School Council and also a principal, said the early exit rates in the past two years were unprecedentedly high in government-aided institutions but this would not affect them financially unless class numbers had to be reduced.

“Besides emigration, I have recently heard some families moved to the Greater Bay Area as there is a growing number of schools for Hong Kong children,” she said.

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