Hong Kong parents eye Singapore schools as protests endure

Singapore's political stability, high education standards, green spaces, low crime and efficient infrastructure make it appealing for those considering a change of scenery.
Singapore's political stability, high education standards, green spaces, low crime and efficient infrastructure make it appealing for those considering a change of scenery.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - North London Collegiate School has been educating girls in the British capital since the days of Queen Victoria. But these days, it's looking further afield - to Singapore. And, as chance would have it, the timing seems impeccable.

The private school is opening a new outpost in the city state as anxious expats in Hong Kong are sizing up options for their children, given the running protests in the former British colony.

It's one of several international schools poised to siphon students and tuition dollars from rivals in Hong Kong as the almost daily disruptions and the possibility of another round of school closures, prompt parents to look elsewhere.

Singapore has plenty of advantages for expats.

The city-state's political stability, high education standards, green spaces, low crime and efficient infrastructure make it appealing for those considering a change of scenery. One international school in Singapore said applications have increased by about one quarter.

"Singapore has a sound reputation internationally in terms of liveability," said associate professor Jason Tan of Nanyang Technological University's National Institute of Education. "With the current situation in Hong Kong, families are looking to move elsewhere."

Months-long pro-democracy protests that show no sign of ending have disrupted the Asian financial centre, crippling its economy and seriously hurting the retail and hospitality sectors.

Goldman Sachs Group estimated in October that as much as US$4 billion (S$5.4 billion) may have flowed to Singapore due to the turmoil, while real estate brokers from Canada to Australia say they're seeing a surge in interest from people looking to relocate.

Since August, when the violence intensified, school placement consultancy ITS Educational Services in Hong Kong has received four inquiries a week on average about schools in Singapore.

SCHOOL TALKS

Parents are "worried about their children travelling to school and how safe it is to be travelling on public transport", director Anne Murphy said.

Ms Murphy, who is based in Hong Kong, was invited by four financial companies to conduct talks on Singapore's international schools because employees have been offered the option of relocating.

 
 

While she wasn't able to disclose the names of the firms, she said the talks focused on the choices of international schools available, admission process and waiting lists.

Each was attended by around 12 to 20 parents, most either lawyers, traders or fund managers. The majority were expats, including American, Indian, British and French nationals.

"Even those without Singapore visas were accepted through our help," Ms Murphy said, adding that ITS often recommended schools that could sponsor a student with a guardian visa.

A six-day shutdown of schools in November, prompted by fresh levels of violence, is another reason parents are casting their eyes abroad. They're angry their children were unable to travel to school, despite living nearby. This is especially so when school fees have burnt a small hole in their pockets.

Stamford American School Hong Kong charges about HK$178,000 (S$31,000) a year for students up to grade five and jumps to almost HK$200,000 for grades six to nine. Hong Kong International School charges around HK$216,000 for younger students and up to HK$245,950 for children in grades six to 12.

These costs are "quite extravagant and significant if your child is unable to attend school", Ms Murphy said.

NOT CHEAP

During the November shutdown, the Singapore American School received inquiries from families wanting to enrol their children as soon as possible, according to director of admissions Treena Casey. Others were inquiring about getting their children in the door from August, the start of the new school year.

But the move isn't always smooth, or cheap.

Most of Singapore's international schools have long waiting lists and prices rival Hong Kong. At the Singapore American School, students who are non-United States citizens pay as much as $54,800 a year depending on the grade. The Canadian International School in Singapore charges up to $40,900.

 
 

Ms Casey said the school had witnessed a 25 per cent jump in applications from Hong Kong, but couldn't say how many would be joining in the new year. "We've tried to accommodate where we can. We have an extensive wait list," she said.

The French School of Singapore has seven new students starting this month, according to communications and events director Sebastien Barnard. That's more than the school would normally expect, although it's not considered "a particularly large migration for us", he said.

The Canadian International School's head of communications and marketing, Ms Michelle Sharp, said there has been an increase in both inquiries and applications, but could not share figures. Spaces are extremely limited for a January start, with wait lists at most grade levels.

North London Collegiate School in England, meanwhile, is opening a branch in Singapore in August. It started accepting enrolments in October and to date, about 12 per cent of inquiries have come from Hong Kong, said Ms Vandana Rao, director of community relations.

Nevertheless, Assoc Prof Tan noted that "it's important to find schools that are the right fit and affordability is a factor". The high costs in Singapore "could deter Hong Kong parents from relocating".