Finding a school in Hong Kong

Rapid growth in expat numbers and local demand, had led to an undersupply of school places for the children of international assignees in Hong Kong in recent years. However, parents shouldn’t despair because, as we find out, everything is changing.

International School children in Hong Kong

Nord Anglia International School, Hong Kong

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 Gaining a place at one of Hong Kong’s leading international schools used to be almost impossible. In the 2016/17 academic year, there was an estimated shortfall of over 4,200 primary-school places. The Hong Kong Bureau of Education said that nearly ten per cent of companies looking to hire staff from overseas were unable to do so because of the lack of international school places.An increasing demand for school places from aspirational local families wanting an English-medium international school education for their children placed a lot of pressure on an already burgeoning system. Combined with the already high demand from expatriate families, all of the leading schools had long waiting lists.However, in recent years the international schools sector has seen significant investment both locally and from overseas. To meet the shortfall the Hong Kong government has been allowing greenfield site development in addition to offering up vacant school premises to developers. It has also provided a number of incentives such as interest free loans to aid construction of new international schools.“The government supports the development of a vibrant international-school sector in Hong Kong, mainly to meet the demand for school places from overseas families living in Hong Kong and families coming to Hong Kong for work or investment,” said Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education, Eddie Ng.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsMany international schools have opened in the last few years and notable English independent school additions for 2018 include Shrewsbury International School – opening a new school in Tseung Kwan O – and Malvern College in the New Territories.A report commissioned by the Hong Kong Bureau of Education in 2017 revealed that the deficit in places is predicted to turn into a surplus over the coming years – particularly in the primary sector. This is good news for relocating families looking for an international education for their children and for companies in Hong Kong looking to recruit international talent.According to the report, the number of primary places available at international schools in 2015/16 was just over 22,000 and more than 2,000 children missed out on securing a place. However, by 2022/23 it is predicted that over 27,000 places will be available – an increase of 21 per cent, but the demand for school places at primary level is only predicted to grow by five per cent. Supply will therefore outstrip demand.The picture is somewhat different for secondary school places, however, where supply is likely to just meet demand with the prediction of just a minimal surplus of places by 2022/23.

Recent international school developments

Some existing schools have expanded. These include the International Montessori School network in Hong Kong, which has renovated its Stanley campus to cater for a further 700 kindergarten and primary-school pupils.Development of a new campus for the Christian Alliance International School in Butterfly Valley, Lai Chi Kok, is underway. The campus, which will offer a Canadian curriculum, opened Autumn 2017, with additional phases due to be complete by 2020.Harrow International School Hong Kong, the first international coeducational day and boarding school in Hong Kong, opened in September 2012 and has grown rapidly. Currently boasting a student roll of over 1,500, it is undergoing a five-year period of strategic development (2013 to 2018).September 2014 saw Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong (NAIS HK) open in the Lam Tin district of East Kowloon. The school received permission to extend its campus to allow it to take students up to Year 11 and it will begin to welcome Year 11 students in August 2018.

Established school options

Li Po Chun United World College (UWC) of Hong Kong celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. The school is part of the UWC movement, which follows a unique education model aiming to develop responsible, tolerant leaders who can bring about change in the world. It is an IB World School and actively pursues diversity within its student body, which represents over 80 different nationalities.“A special feature of Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong is the breadth and depth of activities that students undertake outside of the ‘taught’ curriculum,” explains principal, Arnett Edwards. “In the afternoons and weekends students are involved in over 90 different activities based around the themes of Creativity, Action and Service. Students also participate in at least one Activities Week either in China or the rest of the world per year.”One of the largest providers of English-medium international education in Hong Kong is the English Schools Foundation (ESF). It was established and subsidised by the government to provide families, particularly local citizens, with access to affordable English-language education.ESF’s schools cater for different ages, from kindergarten to 18. They include two private independent schools, and they are very popular. Over 17,000 students attend, more than 5,000 of them expatriates. The ESF opened its fifth international kindergarten in Hong Kong in August 2016.

Debentures and capital levies

Several premium international schools in Hong Kong also demand some form of capital payment or debenture, either as an attendance requirement or, in some cases, as a route to application priority. Some payments are refundable when the child leaves a school; others are not.

Advice for incoming expats

Whilst competition for school places is not as fierce as it was in the past, the best advice is always to begin applying for schools as soon as your assignment has been confirmed.Head of marketing and admissions at Yew Chung International School Hong Kong (YCIS), Cathy Ben-David, advises prospective parents not to be afraid of asking direct questions about the admissions process and to be in direct contact with a school of interest, “At YCIS, the admissions office can give parents the support and help they need to plan joining the school at the desired time.“YCIS is very aware that relocating families need flexibility with timing. International professionals are sought after in Hong Kong, and their accompanying families must be catered for.”
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