In today’s ESF, Alex Lo provides a reasonable summary of the issues but seems to have missed the point.
Nov 26, 2011
Negotiations between the government and the English Schools Foundation are going nowhere. The government wants to let go of the ESF, if not now then eventually. The ESF, however, wants to stay with increased public funding.
Either outcome is acceptable. In the first case, ESF institutions would become fully-fledged independent international schools. In the second, they would come under the government's direct subsidy scheme, much like many elite local schools, which enjoy a good deal of autonomy but not full independence.
The ESF will prosper one way or another. Of course, as at international schools, families who cannot afford non-subsidised fees will be forced out, but these places will be filled given the demand for such school places.
What is not tenable, however, is the status quo. ESF schools currently receive public funding well below what is given, on average, to schools under the direct subsidy scheme. This means the ESF has had to raise fees regularly, antagonising parents in the process. Despite the current subsidy, ESF fees are approaching those of some international schools. Without adequate funding, the foundation cannot properly budget for future expansion and development.
But it is difficult for the government to justify increased funding for the ESF - widely regarded as a colonial legacy - if the foundation continues giving admission priority to non-Chinese speaking families. Unfortunately, few local schools have the facilities to accept non-Chinese speaking students, so schools such as the ESF's are essential for the expatriate community.
A rational and humane solution is for more local schools to develop the capability to take foreign students. The ESF could then drop preferential admissions in exchange for higher funding. But this calls for long-term commitment, and the government may instead be tempted to take the easier way out and let the ESF go.
Well, yes, but what is the chance of the government adopting this “rational and humane solution”? The reason that the ESF was established was because the government wanted another body to run its English schools. For the next 30 years the ESF received the same funding as government schools, but since the handover this has been steadily reduced and now stands at about half of what it used to be (in real terms). So any new solution will cost the government more than they spend today on the ESF subvention.
I don’t see why it is “difficult for the government to justify increased funding for the ESF .. if the foundation continues giving admission priority to non-Chinese speaking families”. Isn’t what it was set up to do? Ah, but it’s “widely regarded as a colonial legacy”. There’s the problem.