How to Start a School in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s education market is one of the most vibrant in the region, and the city is seeking to become a hub for training the next generation of regional talent. At the same time, as the city seeks to attract more foreign talent, opportunities for private and international schools may be increasing after a lull during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we walk through the steps and requirements for opening a school in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has long been home to a lucrative education market thanks to the high value placed on schooling by the local government and population. With a large and diverse expat population and openness to foreign investment, the city is also home to a range of renowned private and international schools.
The city is now also seeking to transform itself into a regional education hub – a center for educating and training the next generation of high-skilled talent in the Greater Bay Area and beyond. Moreover, with looser regulations on curricula as well as private international schools and private tutoring, Hong Kong continues to present new opportunities for investors in the education field.
In this article, we provide a brief overview of the regulations for setting up a school in Hong Kong and go through the steps and best practices to register and run a school in the city.
There are generally no restrictions on foreign investment in Hong Kong, and foreign investors are permitted to set up wholly foreign-owned private schools and educational institutions.
Schools in Hong Kong, including international schools, are regulated by the Education Ordinance and the Education Regulations. Under the Education Ordinance, a “school” is defined as, “an institution, organization or establishment which provides for 20 or more persons during any one day or 8 or more persons at any one time, any nursery, kindergarten, primary, secondary or post-secondary education or any other educational course by any means, including correspondence delivered by hand or through the postal services”.
The Education Ordinance regulate the registration and management of schools, while the Education Regulations regulate the premises in which schools are based, covering matters such as health and safety requirements for the buildings, the location, and the internal layout of the buildings. The Education Ordinance and Education Regulations do not apply to universities in Hong Kong.
All schools must register or provisionally register with the Permanent Secretary for Education in order to receive a Certificate of Registration of School (a “Certificate”). The Permanent Secretary of Education, who heads the Education Bureau, is responsible for maintaining a register of schools in Hong Kong. If a day school concurrently provides evening classes, the evening classes must be registered as a separate school.
Non-academic schools and training centers, for instance, those providing non-academic extra-curricular or vocational training, such as catering, crafts, beautician training, and so on, do not need to be registered with the Education Bureau and can operate as a normal business. Businesses operating in education-adjacent spaces but who do not provide classes, such as education platforms or learning software, also do not need to register as a school.
Requirements for school premises
The school premises must comply with the following requirements from various government departments:
- Planning requirements for school applications of the Planning Department
- Fire safety requirements of the Fire Services Department
- Building safety requirements of the Independent Checking Unit, Office of the Permanent Secretary for Housing
- Building safety requirements of the Buildings Department
Ensuring that potential premises for a school are compliant with all of the above regulations can be fairly complex, and it is advisable to hire a professional surveyor to assess whether a given building or location is suitable for a school. It is also advisable that the premises are purpose-built for a school, as premises that are converted from other buildings will have to receive clearance from several government departments to ensure they are compliant with relevant regulations, which complicates the registration process. However, as this may not always be possible, we have detailed the clearance documents required for non-purpose-built school premises in the section below. The full guidelines can also be found here.
In general, in accordance with the regulations of the Fire Services Department, converted school premises may not be located in:
- Any premises designed for residential use;
- Any industrial building, warehouse, cinema, or other premises where the undertakings may endanger the lives or safety of pupils;
- Any premises situated at a height of 30 meters above ground level; or
- Any premises located above or below a restaurant or club.
As we will discuss below, the application for registration of a school in Hong Kong requires receiving approval and clearance from the above departments that the premises comply with their respective regulations.
Regulations on classroom size
The Education Regulations place a cap on the number of students that are permitted to be taught in a classroom by one teacher. This number varies depending on the type of school, and the maximum number of permitted pupils must be written in a prominent place in each classroom.
The limits on pupil numbers are as follows:
- 20 pupils for nurseries;
- 30 pupils for kindergartens; and
- 45 pupils for primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools.
Regulations of school name
The name of the school must comply with certain provisions of the Education Ordinance. If a name does not comply with these requirements, then the Permanent Secretary for Education may refuse to register the school.
To comply with relevant regulations, the name of a school must not:
- Be the same or similar to another registered school;
- Be the same or similar to another school whose registration has been canceled;
- Contain the word “university”, or the Chinese equivalent 大學 or 學院;
- Promote the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or other addictive substances;
- Contravene any Hong Kong law or government policy;
- Carry any undesirable, profane, disrespectful, disreputable, or political connotations where the name is associated with any business or industry, individuals, organizations, or groups; and
- Be misleading, offensive, or obscene.
Requirements for School Manager
All schools must appoint a School Manager, who must be registered with the Permanent Secretary along with the school. The application for School Manager can be submitted along with the application to register a school.
The Education Ordinance specifies that a manager must:
- Be a resident in Hong Kong for at least nine months each year;
- Be over the age of 18; and
- Be under the age of 70, unless they can produce a medical certificate issued by a registered medical practitioner within two months of the date of their application certifying that the applicant is physically fit to perform the functions of a manager.
A manager may be refused registration if they:
- Have had a teacher’s permit canceled;
- Have provided false information or materials (including by omission) in connection with an application for registration of a school, manager, or teacher, or application to employ a person as a teacher in a school;
- Are deemed bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Ordinance;
- Have been convicted of a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in Hong Kong or elsewhere; and
- Are deemed unfit to be a manager by the Permanent Secretary.
Setting up an educational institution
Registration of a business
The first step in setting up a school or educational institution in Hong Kong is to register a business with the Hong Kong Companies Registry and Business Registration Office.
Application for registration of a school
In the table below is the full list of documents required to apply for the Provisional Certificate. Documents 1 to 4 below are required for schools set up in premises that are not purpose-built. These documents must be obtained upon clearance from the relevant government department to ensure that your school premises, building plan, health and safety, and other matters comply with regulations. We have listed the relevant issuing departments and required materials to obtain these documents.
|Clearance/Documents Required to Apply for Certificate of Registration of School|
|#||Document||Issuing department||How to obtain document|
|1||Form P with confirmation that the proposed school “would not require planning permission from the Town Planning Board”||The Planning Department||Submit completed Form P to Planning Department.|
|2||Form L with confirmation that there is “no objection/no comment” on the proposed school premises||The Lands Registry||Request a certified true copy of the Historical and Current Computerized Land Register and a certified true copy of the Lease or New Grant or Conditions for the proposed premises/lot of the school|
|The Lands Department||Submit completed Form L along with the above documents|
|3||Copy of Form A1*
(Fire Services Certificate) with the proposed layout plan of the school premises
|Fire Services Department
|Submit completed Form A1 along with three copies of the premises’ layout plan|
|4||Copy of Form A2* (safety certificates and notice) with a proposed layout plan of school premises||The Buildings Department / the Independent Checking Unit of the Office of the Permanent Secretary of Housing||Submit Form A2 along with four copies of the premises’/lot’s layout plan|
|Forms Obtained from Education Bureau|
|5||Form 6 (application for Registration of School Manager||Education Bureau||Can also be filled in online|
|6||Form 1 (application for Certificate of Registration of School)||Education Bureau||Can also be filled in online|
|7||Five copies of proposed layout plan||N/A||N/A|
|8||Documentary proof of the right to use the premises (such as tenancy agreement, sales and purchase agreement, authorization of landlord, etc.)||N/A||Obtained from the relevant entity|
|9||Time schedule of courses (for kindergarten, primary, secondary, or post-secondary education)||N/A||N/A|
|12||Timetable for each classroom||N/A||N/A|
|13||Lunch menu for children for whole-day kindergartens||N/A||N/A|
|14||Expenditure for employment on:
|15||For schools operating computer courses, a layout plan showing arrangement of computers in accordance with the following principles:
|16||Authorization of relevant person or organization if the school is named after a person or organization||N/A||N/A|
|*Original document to be submitted directly to relevant issuing department, copies to be submitted to the Education Bureau.
Note: Other documents may be required upon request of various departments. See the full list of documents here.
Source: Hong Kong Education Bureau
Processing of Provisional Certificate application
If complete and accurate documents are submitted, the Education Bureau will generally make decision on the application within 10 working days of the documents being submitted, although more time may be required if the Bureau needs further clarification on certain materials or information.
The Education Bureau may issue a Certificate of Provisional Registration of School (“Provisional Certificate”) if the school premises currently do not fully comply with the relevant regulations. This Provisional Certificate is valid for one year, and the school is permitted to operate during this time. The school must, however, take the necessary steps to become fully compliant with all regulations within this period if they are to receive a permanent Certificate of Registration. To receive a permanent Certificate, schools must prove to the Education Bureau that they comply with:
- Requirements on school management (for example, registration of teachers, the appointment of a principal, and student enrolment numbers set by the Education Bureau);
- Health requirements set by the Department of Health; and
- Requirements set by the Fire Services Department or Independent Checking Unit (if any).
If a school fails to meet all the necessary requirement within the one-year validity of the Provisional Certificate, it will be unregistered and have to re-apply for a certificate.
General guidelines for operation after registration
The Education Bureau provides a range of general guidelines and best practices for the operation of schools to ensure the health and safety of their staff and students and ensure consistent compliance with regulations.
General best practices include:
- Exhibiting the Certificate or Provisional Certificate in a prominent place within the school;
- Exhibiting the maximum number of students permitted in a classroom in a prominent place in the classroom;
- Conducting fire drills at least once every six months; and
- Appointing an appropriate class of registered Fire Service Installation Contractors to inspect and maintain all fire prevention equipment and installations at least every 12 months.
Throughout the operation of the school, it is also imperative that schools do not:
- Enroll more students than are permitted to be taught in a classroom;
- Obstruct any exit route or means of escape from the school;
- Store any dangerous goods in the school premises in excess of the approved amount;
- Collect any fees in excess of the amount approved by the Permanent Secretary (for fee-paying schools); and
- Employ teachers that are not registered or permitted.
Registering and operating a school can be confusing, and any mistakes or oversight may result in delays in the requisite registrations and approvals and potential loss of income. For help with setting up a school or other education-related business in Hong Kong, you can consult our on-the-ground professionals at email@example.com.
China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Russia, in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative. We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.
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