Hong Kong international schools expand

Growing demand creates new options for UK independent schools seeking international opportunities

Hong Kong’s leading international schools are operating at full capacity and many have waiting lists. Several schools are already expanding or have plans for expansion, and a number of new school developments are in the pipeline says the International School Consultancy Group (ISC) which delivers independent market research on the world’s English-medium international schools market. It’s a market drawing the attention of UK independent schools looking for international development opportunities following in the footsteps of Harrow International School.

Current developments in Hong Kong include the HK$900m redevelopment of Hong Kong International School in Repulse Bay which will provide 200 additional places when construction is complete in 2017, taking the school to 850 primary students at full capacity.  However, says ISC, such developments are unlikely to fully satisfy the anticipated demand for places within the next few years. As a result there will be increasing competition for international school places in Hong Kong for the foreseeable future. This shortage of places is becoming so critical that global businesses in Hong Kong dependent on employee mobility are seriously concerned that they will not be able to recruit expatriate staff with families.

According to data from ISC, in the space of just 14 years, the number of international schools in Hong Kong has risen from 92 (in 2000) to a current total of 171 and the number of students has increased by 93%, from 34,200 to 66,138. Most schools in Hong Kong cater for a wide range of expatriate as well as local students and there is much demand from local wealthy families who want an English-medium international school education for their children. 

Chinese, British, American, Canadian and Australian students now make up the largest groups. 28% of the schools have at least 500 students attending and 12% have more than 1,000. The average international school size in Hong Kong currently stands at 374 students.

Of Hong Kong’s international schools, ISC reports that most are based on Hong Kong Island with a number of other schools in Kowloon and the New Territories.  Almost half of the international schools in Hong Kong (47%) have a UK orientation (in terms of curricula and examinations), 42% have an international orientation (such as the International Baccalaureate and the International Primary Curriculum), and 10% have a US orientation (some schools have more than one orientation).

Expansion and development of international schools in Hong Kong is controlled by a government tender process; a process which last year, saw 40 organisations bidding for a couple of sites for new schools and this year will see organisations bidding for three greenfield sites and two vacant school premises. Government provision, however, is currently not fulfilling the need that the demand for international school places from both expatriate and local families is creating and this has resulted in an expansion of debentures and capital levies.

The children of an increasing number of Hong Kong nationals attend English Schools Foundation (ESF). These were established by the Hong Kong government in 1967 to provide local citizens with an affordable English language education. As a result of a government subsidy, fees in the ESF schools have, until recently, remained lower than other international schools in the region. However, the introduction of debentures and the forthcoming end of the current government ESF subsidy (in 2015) means that ESF school fees will no longer be the affordable option for many.

“Even with the increase in fees for the ESF schools, Hong Kong international schools are looking towards a period of essential expansion and development as local families become increasingly wealthy and the expatriate market continues to expand,” says Chairman of ISC, Nicholas Brummitt. “The market needs to grow to respond to the demands,” he adds.

UK independent schools considering opportunities in Hong Kong can obtain all essential market intelligence, including national and expatriate demographic data, demand analysis, and research on future market development from ISC.



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