A payment of at least HK$500,000 (US$63,745) for each grade is to be offered to Hong Kong secondary schools as an incentive to merge with other institutions as the city faces a double whammy from falling rolls and the emigration wave.
Schools with too few students in Form One – fewer than two classes with a total of 26 pupils – may face closure after the exercise.
“Since the decline in the school-age population is structural instead of transitional, we must plan for the supply of public school places in the long run to ensure the healthy and sustainable development of the educational ecology and make good use of public resources,” the bureau said in a circular.
But the circular said schools could retain teachers to be made redundant as a result of a merger for at least three years.
Two subsidised secondary schools were earlier told they would have to shut their doors in 2026.
The bureau decided on incentives for school sponsoring bodies to consider the option of a merger, a solution promoted by the government in recent years.
A school that continues to operate Form One after merging with another institution will receive a one-off subsidy of HK$500,000 for each merged grade under the plan.
A spokesman for the bureau added if two schools merged all years from Form One to Six, the single successor would be given HK$3 million.
Other options include running the Form One classes on a private basis and applying for a special review by the bureau, providing a broad curriculum, and group activities for those in Form One when they move up to senior grades.
The bureau said the payments were designed to cover the expenses of a merger.
It added redundant teachers could be retained for three years in line with the numbers employed in the merged schools the year before they joined forces.
Chu Kwok-keung, an education sector lawmaker and principal, said the initiatives would only be considered by large school sponsoring bodies with dozens of institutions.
“A merger between schools means the big school eats the small one,” he said.
“The HK$500,000 would only be given to the big school after the exercise. How could a small school have incentives to merge with another institution?”
Lee Yi-ying, head of the Subsidised Secondary School Council, said it welcomed measures to help deal with the shrinking population and that the organisation would continue to hold talks with the government on other potential solutions.
But Chu and Lee agreed the best solution would be to increase the number of pupils.
He added some school campuses could be converted into hostels to attract pupils from elsewhere to study in the city.
Government statistics showed there would be an almost 14 per cent drop in the number of children eligible for Form One over the next few years, down from 71,600 this year to 60,000 in 2029.
And not all of them would join the school place allocation system as they would go on to private sector education.
School sponsoring bodies have so far given the cold shoulder to suggestions of mergers, government sources said.
There have been only two mergers so far in the secondary schools sector so far, with one of government schools, which are more easily managed.
The other involved two schools administered by Caritas Hong Kong planned to merge in September 2024.