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Hong Kong’s ESF raises fees as government funding phased out

Year 2 pupils are the latest year group to face an additional fee payment of HK$17,300 (US$2,200) this year at one of Hong Kong’s largest providers of English-medium education, as a result of the removal of a large government subvention.

ESF school fees are nearing market prices for Hong Kong international school tuition which averages $108,677 annually, according to ISC Research data. Photo: ISC Research.

Tuition fees for pupils in Years 1 and 2 have reached HK$106,500 this year

English Schools Foundation, which operates 22 schools across the country teaching 17,600 students, is in its second consecutive year of phasing out the subvention money it received from the government, which totalled HK$283m (US$36.5m) annually.

Originally established to provide access to affordable English language education particularly for local citizens, around 30% of enrolments are international students.

“The increase for ESF school fees continue to be significantly lower than most of the international schools in Hong Kong”

The decision to remove the subvention, which has been in place since the schools were established in 1967, was taken in 2013. In addition, pupils across all year groups face a tuition fee hike of between 5.8% and 6.8%, on top of the $17,300 increase.

These increases, according to Belinda Greer, CEO of ESF, are at the “minimum level necessary to meet rising costs, whilst ensuring quality education”.

“The increase for ESF school fees continue to be significantly lower than most of the international schools in Hong Kong,” she told The PIE News.

The $17,300 differential was implemented for Year 1 last year, and is being phased in year by year. The last year group to benefit from the government subvention will be the graduating class of 2027/28.

Tuition fees for pupils in Years 1 and 2, which both no longer include the government subvention, have reached HK$106,500 this year.

For students in Years 3-6, which remain under the subvented fee structure, fees have increased to $89,200 (up 6.8%).

And Year 7-11 fees have increased by 6.2% to $122,900, while Year 12-13 fee rose 6.3% to $129,100.

“In essence, the students in Years 3 to 13 continue to receive a subsidy towards school fees from the government,” said Greer. “But parents of students in Years 1 and 2 meet the full cost of school fees without the subvention.”

The announcement has garnered criticism among parents in the market, as the school fees for ESF are now coming close to other, more expensive schools in the city-state. The remaining 70% of enrolments are Hong Kong citizens.

One parent told the South China Morning Post that there are not many options as “other international schools are even more expensive while local schools offering the International Baccalaureate program do not have many places for transfer students”.

According to Richard Gaskell, schools director at ISC Research, which supplies data, intelligence and trends on the world’s international schools market, ESF schools are popular with both local and expatriate families because “they have an excellent academic reputation”.

However, commenting on the decision to rescind government support in 2012, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, secretary for education, said, “It is not our established policy to provide recurrent subvention to schools offering a non-local curriculum.”

With the recent price increases, ESF school fees are nearing market prices for Hong Kong international school tuition which averages $108,677 annually, according to ISC Research data – just $2,177 more than the ESF fee average.

The country boasts a total of 177 international schools, which collectively enrol 82,400 students.

“Demand for international schools in Hong Kong is expected to exceed supply for the next few years”

With the continued phasing out of the government subvention over the next 12 years, Greer emphasised that the school’s financial sustainability is of “critical importance”.

“We will continue to work to a best value model which ensures efficient and effective use of resources,” she said.

It is likely fee increases, coupled with the implementation of debentures or levies, will continue to happen in the city-state as long as the current demand for English-medium international school education exceeds supply, according to Gaskell.

Five new schools are expected to open in the next two years, which will cater for an additional 3,490 primary school places (Years 1-6) and 780 secondary places (Years 7-13), he added.

“Even with the new developments and expansions this year and next, demand for international schools in Hong Kong is expected to exceed supply for the next few years,” Gaskell said.

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