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AmCham Warns Of Schools 'crisis

05 Dec 2011


Immigration News

The American Chamber of Commerce has warned the chief executive that Hong Kong's status as a world-class city is under threat because the shortage of international school places has reached a "crisis point".

In a paper submitted to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's government, the business organisation said it wanted a permanent committee to be established to ensure schooling would be available for children of foreign investors and professionals.

"We feel that the situation is hitting a crisis point now," the paper said. "The government urgently needs to work with the private sector to set coherent and long-term, sustainable policies to support Hong Kong's education and talent development."

The chamber, or AmCham, released the paper - sent to the government in August - to the South China Morning Post last week.

AmCham said the new committee, staffed by schools, business chambers and the government, should support long-term planning, prevent future imbalances in school places and report directly to the chief executive.

The Chief Executive's Office  declined to comment on the chamber's request. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said: "We have over the past few months engaged with chambers, the business community and international schools in addressing difficulties non-local families have encountered."

In recent months, British and Canadian chambers of commerce have warned that the shortage of school places could weaken Hong Kong's status as a financial hub. AmCham's paper says a majority of its members think the city has lost its appeal as a regional centre due to this problem, according to a survey. "We believe immediate action is required by the chief executive," the paper states.

It also cites a poll this year by a US relocation services firm which says Hong Kong is among the 20 locations that present the greatest challenges for human resources managers. Illinois-based Brookfield Global Relocation Services found that while the city is among the places where companies most often want to relocate employees, it also has one of the highest rates of "relocation failure", or when employees decline the move.

Firms in the survey said their top concerns were schooling, the cost of living, housing and problems with driving.

Last week, an Education Bureau spokeswoman said the city planned to further limit the number of local students who could attend international schools - to be built in future on government land - from 50 per cent to 30 per cent, giving more room for expats.

Education sector legislator Cheung Man-kwong also suggested the bureau should establish a committee to ensure foreign investors and expatriates could find school places for their children.

But some critics say drawing in foreign workers may depend on other factors.

Edmond So Wai-chung, general manager of Besteam Personnel Consultancy, said that while career prospects and good salaries are the top priorities for workers looking to move to Hong Kong, expats are deterred from the city by poor air quality, followed by lack of school spaces and high rents.


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