Even after Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese control in 1999, in many ways it retained its independence as Chinese authorities seemed reluctant to tinker with the formula driving the territory’s economic success. However, recent moves by the mainland government have signaled that Chinese authorities are much less willing to tolerate the region’s openness going forward, which could diminish Hong Kong’s attractiveness to foreigners, Philip Browning explains at AsiaSentinel.
The recent decision to cut off funding for the English Schools Foundation is one indication of China’s shifting policy. The ESF provided subsidized education to English speakers residing in Hong Kong and was at one time provided with a similar level of funding to independently-run local schools. However, while other education organizations saw their subsidies grow in line with inflation, ESF received less in real funds until the the government cut it off completely.
While the subsidy paid to independent Chinese schools has remained stable in real terms, that for the ESF has been gradually reduced and is now to be abolished. The grounds for this is that the ESF, following a curriculum different from that of local schools, is somehow a colonial relic of no relevance to Hong Kong today.
But this hides two prejudices ingrained in an upper-level, highly paid bureaucracy which itself is rich enough to send its children to any schools it wants. One is simply racial. The attack on the ESF is primarily aimed at those (mostly Asian) residents for whom English, not Chinese, is a first or second language.
The English-language learning environment wasn’t only serving foreign families. Local residents also frequently took advantage of schools run by ESF because they were less steeped in Communist party propaganda. Although the government recently walked back the requirement that learning party philosophy be made mandatory in Hong Kong schools, the pressure on local education institutions to get in step with their mainland counterparts in that regard has been increasingly felt.
None of this will make much difference to the rich, or foreign bankers with generous education allowances, who either or already send their children to very expensive international schools or to ones overseas. But the huge hikes in ESF fees will be a major blow to middle-class people local and foreign, a real deterrent to foreigners setting up small business in Hong Kong, or large businesses which like to have international staffs to run regional or global businesses.
As it is, ESF schools are overrun with applications, a sad commentary on the education on offer from local schools. Indeed, such is the demand for non-local education that most all the expensive international schools – or at least those without a nationality qualification – have a surfeit of applicants.