This time last week I was in Hong Kong. I inherited what had become an Annual trip for Freemen’s leadership team when I joined the school, and to be frank, two years ago, I was a little sceptical about the need for it.
My questions were: Why stick with one country? Why target Hong Kong alone? The roundabout answer to both of these questions is that we won’t be doing that, in the future. We are diversifying and reaching out to a variety of different countries to look to change the makeup of boarding at Freemen’s. We did this at my last school too - welcoming young people from a variety of European countries, from both mediterranean and baltic countries alongside Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian students as well as promoting boarding to local families, too - making a truly international community. Ironically, a huge number of my Fifth and Sixth Form boarders at Rendcomb came from within only a fourteen mile radius: they just wanted to be with their friends.
Nonetheless, to give some context to the set up as it has existed, there is a massive market for Hong Kong parents to consider when wishing to secure a British education for their children. Economically and aspirationally, we deliver what they want. However, the message we heard loud and clear from parents whom we met out there was that they would prefer smaller numbers of Hong Kong Chinese students in schools too. They are looking for a British school with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Having capped numbers for next year’s Hong Kong intake, we are of course pleased that this decision has been well received out there.
So this trip involved my colleague, Richard Dolan and me in three different functions: first, interviewing prospective students for entry in 2017; second, meeting Hong Kong alumni; third, meeting current Freemen’s parents.
Meeting the alumni was heart-warming. I was struck by the loyalty to the school and the kindness which these young people showed to us both. One notable alumnus turned up in his school ‘hoodie’ ('Leavers 2010’), which made us all smile. Their number was drawn from a ten year period of 2003-2013 students.
Striking was how hard these young people work out there making their futures in Hong Kong. They spoke of the strong pull to return home after studying in Britain - many staying to take degrees in London and beyond - to remain loyal to their parents and families, and to get on to the housing market there, a definite difficulty for millennials in a place with such expensive living costs. The housing crisis in Hong Kong is well documented and like many countries in the world, there is an ever-growing gap between those who have and those who don’t: