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EL Asia Pacific: Boom in international schools

The opening of Mount Kelly International School, a Hong Kong branch of the UK independent school, has been postponed after problems with its planning permission application, according to the Education Bureau, writes Bradley Butler. And Harrow International School, the first UK-style independent school to operate in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region, has doubled its school fees, a hike it justifies as ‘necessary to fund the school’s expansion plan’.

Harrow is not the only international school to raise its fees. Cuts in government subsidies have led to an increase in prices at the English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools, the biggest group of international schools in the region.

ESF was created by the former British administration as a not-for-profit organisation to provide non-selective English-medium education to Hong Kong Chinese and expatriate children. Since Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, ESF schools have only been permitted to enrol 30 per cent of their students from among Hong Kong citizens.

Hong Kong Pic 2 Courtesy Jason Powers
Pic courtesy: Jason Powers

Increasingly, residents want to raise their children in an English-speaking environment, and ESF has seen a 5 per cent rise in the total number of applications. Parents are disgruntled not only by the financial cost of attempting to get into an ESF institution but also by the difficulty of its exams.

This has fuelled the growing market for international schools, especially those run by British independent schools – and Hong Kong is not unique. Harrow also has schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok. Wellington has schools in Shanghai and Beijing, while Dulwich has an astonishing seven, in unexpected locations such as Myanmar.

In Hong Kong the increasing demand for English-medium schools is partly due to a state-school ethos which has been blamed for causing student anxiety. One survey of 10,000 pupils earlier this year found that over half of secondary school pupils showed signs of depression, according to the South China Morning Post. One primary parent told the paper, ‘I don’t want my son to spend two hours on homework every day, without any life. The local system is all about homework and examination.’