HK's schooling woes dim city's role as financial hub
By Lisa Yuriko Thomas and James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) - As global companies expand in Asia, financial hubs such as Hong Kong are suffering a shortage of international school places that may blunt the city's competitive edge against regional rivals including Singapore.
International schools across Hong Kong are reporting record applications and lengthy waiting lists, prices of school debentures to guarantee places have soared and foreign business chambers are warning the situation is becoming critical.
"You can't imagine the difficulty until you physically get here," said Fiona Hunt, a British mother of two who recently moved to Hong Kong with her husband, a financial services professional. "You hear the stories day in and day out of all the people who have to go back home because they literally can't find a place for their child."
As a low-tax commercial gateway to China with some 36,000 international school spots, Hong Kong has faced cyclical shortages in the past. Indications suggest the current crunch, especially for primary school spots in top schools, is especially acute.
In April, a survey by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong noted "the inability to readily access a high-quality international standard education is detrimentally affecting businesses across Hong Kong." Some companies are even going so far as to limit staff hires to single or childless candidates.
"There's been a huge increase in applications pretty consistently over the last three or four years," said Heather Du Quesnay, the chief executive of the English Schools Foundation (ESF), one of Asia's largest international school providers with around 16,000 students in 21 schools across Hong Kong.
"The pressure's huge and just managing the disappointment of parents is very demanding," she said.
High annual school fees in Hong Kong ranging from $23,100 at the Hong Kong International School to $12,500 for an ESF secondary school place and debentures of up to HK$10 million ($1.3 million) at the Kellett School haven't dented demand. Continued...