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Harrow Taps Hong Kong’s ‘Nightmare’ 3-Year School Place Wait

Harrow Taps Hong Kong’s ‘Nightmare’ 3-Year School Place Wait
The former British colony has the highest number of international companies located in a city, ahead of Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and New York, a survey of 280 of the world’s biggest firms by CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. shows. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Harrow International, an arm of the 439-year-old British school that educated Winston Churchill, will spend as much as HK$1 billion ($129 million) on a campus in Hong Kong, where school waiting lists are as long as three years.

Harrow will open next September in Hong Kong’s New Territories with about 700 students, rising eventually to 1,200, Mark Hensman, director of schools and chief operating officer of Harrow International Management Services, told Bloomberg Television. Annual fees range from HK$106,600 to HK$145,000, with capital certificates that give priority for admission costing HK$3 million, according to Harrow’s website.

The school’s investment is part of an effort by the city to add 5,000 international places to reduce a deficit that recruitment firms and companies say is pushing some executives to relocate to cities such as Singapore and Shanghai instead.

“Moving investment banking candidates from Europe to Hong Kong is difficult if they have families,” said Simon Roberts, managing director of London-based executive search firm Sheffield Haworth, who relocated to Hong Kong in 2009. “Getting those children into international schools is a nightmare.”

While Hong Kong’s economy has grown 26 percent since 2005 as banks and international companies expand offices in China’s biggest financial center, schools have failed to keep pace with a record number of applications. In a survey of American Chamber of Commerce members in May, 63 percent said some executives are driven away by the lack of student places.

Employment visas for Hong Kong jumped 28 percent last year from 2009, according to the government. The former British colony has the highest number of international companies located in a city, ahead of Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and New York, a survey of 280 of the world’s biggest firms by CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. shows.

Waiting List

“My friends were telling me to apply for schools even before I got here,” said Carolina Ferro, 25, a Brazilian whose three-year-old son is number 143 on a waiting list for a primary school in Discovery Bay on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island.

The government allocated sites in 2009 for four international schools, including Harrow, a second campus for British-style Kellett School, Hong Kong Academy, and Christian Alliance International School. Others are building more facilities on existing locations, the education bureau said in an e-mail.

“In terms of the admissions we’re receiving, there’s definitely a shortage,” Harrow’s Hensman said.

Nehru and Byron

The London-based school, which only admits boys, counts among its former pupils Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, seven British prime ministers including Churchill, and poets including Lord Byron. Harrow International, a franchisee, manages campuses in Beijing and Bangkok that also admit girls.

Private schools in Hong Kong, which has a resident population of 7 million, charge annual fees ranging from HK$66,500 to HK$195,500. The city has 48 international schools, offering about 36,000 places, according to the Education Bureau.

Singapore, with a population of 4.8 million, has 31 international schools, said Karen Au-Yong, spokeswoman for The Council for Private Education, the body that regulates the industry. She declined to give the number of places.

The Hong Kong International School said demand for places this year is the highest since it was founded in 1966. At Kellett, which is spending HK$650 million on expansion, the waitlist extends to 1,000 children and as long as three years, Principal Ann McDonald said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Soaring Applications

The English Schools Foundation, set up to educate children of British civil servants when Hong Kong was a colony, saw a 16.5 percent gain in applications to a record this year, said Jonathan Straker, head of student support. The foundation runs 21 schools, some of which are publicly subsidized.

“Even large organizations have difficulties getting their employees’ children into schools,” said Nick Lambe, managing director at recruitment firm Morgan McKinley Hong Kong. “Spaces are extremely limited as a result of talented professionals being increasingly attracted to Hong Kong,”

The shortfall is worst at primary schools because more younger executives are relocating to the city, said Rob Chipman, chairman of the local American Chamber of Commerce and chief executive officer of relocation services firm Asian Tigers Hong Kong. The average age of workers moving through his company is 39-years-old, five years younger than in 2005, he said.

“This has reached a point where it is critical,” Chipman said. “If you can’t get the kids in schools, you don’t come here. You go to Singapore, Shanghai or somewhere else.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michelle Yun in Hong Kong at; Marco Lui at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tan Hwee Ann in Hong Kong at

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