Hong Kong is running out of space for international schools

Despite ongoing civil unrest and political rife, Hong Kong is still seeing high demand when it comes to international school education.

Several international schools are still keen on opening up campuses in Hong Kong, but are hitting roadblocks when it comes to finding a suitable space due to land shortage.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), there are at least 11 international schools that are actively looking for a space to set up their new campuses in Hong Kong.

John Mortensen, senior director for education services for Greater China at global property consultancy JLL, told SCMP that despite the political crisis that has damaged Hong Kong’s reputation, demand from local families looking for their children to receive an international school education in the island nation remains high – but the problem is the availability of space.

Mortensen said six providers have approached JLL looking for space. He said, “If I have any available spaces come up, I will have a pool of potential candidates to jump at the opportunity.”

As the market is competitive, most international schools in Hong Kong want large spaces – 30,000 to 40,000 square metres – to accommodate 1,000 to 15,000 students and extensive facilities.

But due to the land shortage, they have to sacrifice certain facilities and make do with what space is available – such as in old shopping malls.

Mortensen said, “We are seeing an increase in the number of international schools taking up spaces in existing assets designed for commercial use and converting them into campuses.”

For example, the British Wycombe Abbey school opened its first campus at the former Tin Wan Shopping Centre at Tin Wan Street, Aberdeen late last year.

Following suit, the Invictus International School Hong Kong has plans to open a second campus in a shopping mall at Tai Tam later this year.

Stan Tang, chairman of the privately run Stan Group and the son of the “king of shops” Tang Shing-bor, also has plans to open an international school under a “major British international school brand” in the nine-storey Riviera Plaza in Tsuen Wan, bought by his family for HK$823 million (US$105.83 million) in 2015.

Lawrence Wan, senior director of advisory and transaction services for retail at property consultancy CBRE, told SCMP, “There are overseas private education institutions looking for the right opportunities to enter Hong Kong, attracted by a strong demand for quality education from local parents as they are able and willing to afford the costs to help their children gain international exposure.

“However, looking for the right space is a challenge for the schools, which have specific requirements such as large floor space, outdoor space and light-filled environment, particularly with Hong Kong’s high rental levels.”