Authorities have defended a decision to allow the English Schools Foundation to introduce a controversial HK$500,000 debenture scheme that allows parents to reserve places for their children.
Lawmakers told the Legislative Council yesterday that the scheme benefits the rich.
However, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the government agreed to the debenture plan in May because the ESF controls its own finances. Funding policies are being reviewed and the needs of students will be considered, Ng added.
The debenture plan began last month with priority being given to overseas applicants and those with foreign passports, currently residing in Hong Kong on conditional terms of stay.
League of Social Democrats legislator Leung Kwok-hung said the government is making an ESF education a privilege.
"Only the upper class will have enough money and this will definitely further divide the rich and the poor," Leung said.
Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, of the Liberal Party and an ex-ESF board member, said: "The government is fostering inequality among students by using taxpayers' money to subsidize the debenture policy."
Separately, Ng said the territory is short of 4,000 primary places in international schools. Empty school premises and greenfield sites will be used to meet the shortfall, he pledged.
Ng said more than 1,400 places will be available when the Kellett School in Kowloon Bay and the Hong Kong Academy in Kennedy Town open next September.
The Christian Alliance PC Lau Memorial International School is also expected to complete its construction by 2016.
"On top of these new schools, we aim to provide more than 1,000 places, through another four vacant premises, to develop international schools."