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Hong Kong international school supply to outstrip demand, report predicts

The supply of international school places in Hong Kong is beginning to outstrip demand, particularly in the primary school sector, where a surplus of places is expected to top 3,000 within the next five years, according to a report commissioned by Hong Kong’s Bureau of Education.

Harrow International School Hong KongHarrow was the first K1-13 British international school in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons/水水.

"ISC Research can confirm that there is an increase in demand for international schools by local families"

In Hong Kong’s primary international school sector, the current shortfall of places will turn into a surplus by 2017/18, with the gap rapidly widening, the report predicts.

There were more than 22,000 primary school places offered by international schools in 2015/16, according to the report. But a survey of 35 international schools, 454 parents and 3,077 business establishments reveals there may be as many as 2,105 pupils who would have enrolled at an international primary school had there been more places available.

Take-up rates for primary schools were extremely high in 2015/16, with 99.1% of seats filled at schools run by the English Schools Foundation, Hong Kong’s largest operator of English-medium international education, and 88.1% at other schools.

There were more than 22,000 primary school places offered by international schools in 2015/16

But this deficit in student places will soon disappear as the number on offer is projected to climb rapidly in the next few years, jumping 21% to a total of 27,159 in 2022/23.

The report predicts that although demand for school places will continue to grow – by 5% in the same timeframe – the pace of growth won’t come close to matching this booming supply.

This gap means that despite a projected shortfall of 149 international primary school places in 2016/17, places will hit a surplus the following year, which will stretch to 3,526 by 2022/23.

Secondary school places are also projected to reach a surplus – in fact, supply is expected to outweigh demand every year for the next seven years.

However, the gap between supply and demand will be much smaller in the secondary school sector, according to the report, with just 19 spare places in 2022/23.

Hong Kong had close to 19,000 secondary school places in 2015/16 – 6,990 at ESF schools and 11,686 at other providers. As in primary schools, the take-up rate for secondary places was high, at 96.7% and 83.6% respectively.

The country’s international schools sector has attracted significant investment in recent years, both from overseas and within the country. However, the latest report recommends the government be discerning when developing the sector further.

“Since no shortfall in both primary and secondary international school places is projected by 2022/23, the government should closely monitor the supply and demand of international school places while facilitating the development of the international school sector,” it recommends.

“The government should closely monitor the supply and demand of international school places while facilitating the development of the sector”

Overseas investments include the UK’s Malvern College, which is soon to open the city’s second British K-12 school. Upon its announcement, the chief secretary of Hong Kong’s SAR government, Carrie Lam, said the government is “committed to developing a vibrant international school sector to underpin our position as Asia’s world city and international hub”.

However, limited land space could curtail these ambitions.

“International school expansion in Hong Kong is clearly challenging because land availability is a huge problem,” Richard Gaskell, ISC schools director at ISC Research told The PIE News.

However, the report doesn’t refer to private international schools, whereas 33 were referenced in the 2012 study, “so it is difficult to produce an accurate analysis,” said Gaskell.

“Private independent schools, ESF schools, and private international schools all take local students to some degree.”

ISC Research data suggests that there are currently 178 international schools in Hong Kong (pre-school, primary and secondary schools) teaching 79,422 students. ISC’s 2017 market intelligence report for Hong Kong claims 93.6% of capacity at the premium international schools in Hong Kong is filled and many school years have waiting lists.

“ISC Research can confirm that there is an increase in demand for international schools by local families who are rejecting the government schools in preference to a more Western-style of education,” said Gaskell.

Meanwhile, the report predicts a slowdown in the number of students coming from abroad to study in the country’s international schools, where growth will be propped up by local students instead.

Although there were nearly four times as many overseas students enrolled in international primary schools in 2015/16 as there were local students (16,281 compared with 4,158), this number is projected to climb only 1% by 2022/23.

In contrast, the number of local children enrolled will jump 20%, it predicts.

And a similar trend is apparent at the secondary level: while international enrolments are set to climb 5% from 13,599 in 2015/16 to 14,312 in 2022/23, local students will more than double, from 2,931 to 6,012.

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