Nearly half of Hong Kong’s direct subsidy scheme (DSS) schools plan to freeze next year’s tuition levels amid the coronavirus-driven economic downturn, though almost a third have already applied to raise fees.
Among the city’s 71 DSS schools – government-subsidised institutions that occupy a middle ground between public and private – 35 have said they will freeze fees in 2020-21.
Education Bureau figures released on Monday, however, showed that 22 DSS schools had applied to raise fees as of May 5, though the bureau did not specify the sizes of the proposed increases. The remainder are pending formal application or revision.
A check by the Post found at least 10 of the popular DSS schools would freeze tuition fees in 2020-21, including St Paul’s Co-educational College, St Stephen’s College, HKUGA College and Ying Wa College, as well as Diocesan Boys’ School and Diocesan Girls’ School.
Tuition fees at these schools ranged from about HK$22,000 to HK$72,000 (US$2,800 to US$9,300) a year.
YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, which is freezing next year’s fees for Form Two to Six students, has proposed a tuition hike of about 6 per cent for its Form One students, from HK$45,000 to HK$48,000 annually.
Creative Secondary School, meanwhile, proposed a 2 per cent fee increase for its International Baccalaureate programme, from about HK$127,800 to HK$130,400, while freezing the rest of its fees at this year’s levels.
Li Po Chun United World College, which has proposed a 4 per cent fee increase – from HK$98,000 to HK$102,000 – said that was mainly because it planned to employ more staff next year to assist students’ university guidance and improve teaching quality with additional resources.
A school spokesman said about 60 per cent of its 250 students had received partial or full scholarships based on financial need in the past two years, adding that it would continue to provide financial assistance amid the pandemic.
Dion Chen, principal of YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, told the Post he expected his school’s decision to freeze fees for most would have a financial impact.
“Our school does not have a huge amount of surplus … hopefully there will not be a [deficit after the freeze of fees],” he said.
But Chen, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said it was difficult to ask all 71 DSS schools to freeze or even reduce fees, as their financial situations varied.
“Some DSS schools have been under financial pressure. With a fee freeze, it will mean their income would be reduced without a new income source. While there are increased costs because of inflation, this might result in greater financial stress,” he said.
At HKUGA College in Wong Chuk Hang, vice-principal Newman Chan Wing-cheong said the school originally hoped to increase tuition fees by 6 per cent next year, but eventually decided to backtrack over concerns about the financial burden on parents.
Chan said the school had run a deficit over the past two years, mainly because it hired more teachers than other local schools.
“There is a financial need to [raise school fees]. But in the face of parents’ burden amid economic uncertainties during the Covid-19 pandemic, our school’s incorporated management committee decided in April that next year’s fees would stay the same,” he said, adding that other financial relief measures had also been provided to parents in need.
Pupils at the school are paying HK$39,000 to HK$45,000 for the 2019-20 school year.
Desmond Lai, financial controller at St Stephen’s College, also cited financial pressures on parents in deciding to freeze tuition at HK$72,000 for their secondary school students.
“We hope that everyone can sail through these difficult times,” he said.
The window for DSS schools to apply for fee adjustments normally closes by the end of April, with decisions on those requests made by September.
A spokeswoman said the Education Bureau would carefully review the applications and reasons submitted by schools, with an eye towards making sure students’ learning progress is not affected by financial pressures.
She noted that schools are required to set aside at least 10 per cent of their total tuition fee income for the purpose of providing fee reductions and scholarships for students in need.
Many private and international schools in Hong Kong have already announced plans to freeze fees for the next academic year, including the 22 kindergartens and other institutions run by the city’s biggest international school group, the English Schools Foundation.
However, at least 560 of the city’s 1,050 kindergartens have applied to increase tuition next year, according to education officials.
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