Some 280 subsidised kindergartens have had their applications to raise tuition fees approved by Hong Kong’s Education Bureau this academic year, with at least five increasing prices by more than 40 per cent, according to an analysis of official data.
Of the 610 subsidised kindergartens that offer full-day classes, at least 327 have frozen their tuition levels, while three actually cut their fees. Most of the rest were allowed to raise fees by no more than 10 per cent.
Of the 1,000 kindergartens serving about 170,000 pupils in the city, some 730 are non-profit and heavily subsidised by the government. In the 2020-21 school year, they received HK$36,080 annually for every child attending half-day courses, and between HK$46,900 and HK$57,730 for each student on full-day sessions.
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An examination of the newly approved kindergarten fees released by the Education Bureau on Wednesday found the highest increase was at Yaumatei Yang Memorial Methodist Pre-School, where the annual tuition fees spiked by more than 120 per cent, from HK$5,268 to HK$11,760.
Other kindergartens that raised their fees by more than 40 per cent included Light and Love Home Happy Kindergarten (On Tai) in Kwun Tong, which raised fees by 90 per cent, from HK$4,000 to HK$7,600, and MOE Kindergarten in Tsuen Wan, whose fees jumped by nearly 60 per cent, from HK$11,616 to HK$18,414.
Still, about 90 per cent of the city’s half-day kindergarten courses remain free this academic year, while full-day tuition fees are generally relatively low – usually averaging HK$860 per month, a HK$40 increase from last year.
Kindergartens submitted their applications to adjust fees by mid-March, with some of those that chose to freeze prices attributing the decision to concern for parents facing financial difficulties because of the economic impact of Covid-19.
Many kindergartens were also facing financial strains themselves due to student withdrawals after months of face-to-face classes being suspended, especially pre-nursery sessions, which are not compulsory under the city’s education system.
At Tsuen Wan Trade Association Chu Cheong Kindergarten, half-day courses remained free this academic year, while fees for full-day classes went up by about 5 per cent to HK$6,220. But principal Nancy Lam Chui-ling said the approved increase was not enough to cover the cost of daily operations.
“[The increase] was barely enough for us. We might have to tighten our belts and spend less over this academic year,” Lam said.
“When we first submitted the fee adjustment application earlier this year, although there was a [slight] impact on the economy already … we didn’t see the full-blown impact.”
Lam, also vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said kindergartens might face further financial difficulties over the coming months should more pupils drop out, especially those in paid full-day classes.
Fellow principal and executive committee member of the Professional Teachers’ Union Elaine Kwan Shuk-ling agreed that schools were facing more challenges amid the Covid-19 pandemic, though she said it remained to be seen whether kindergartens would be under more pressure to raise fees in the next academic year.
“It would have to depend on the development of the pandemic, as well as the economy, among various considerations,” Kwan said.
Kwan added that schools usually considered factors such as operational needs, teachers’ salaries, government subsidies, and parents’ financial constraints when deciding on fee adjustments each year.
Both Lam and Kwan also pointed out another financial factor, namely that the subsidy provided by the government this academic year was slightly lower than the amount initially proposed, leading to schools having to adjust their plans.
Kindergartens, both subsidised and private, have received one-off grants of up to tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars each from the government over the past months during the pandemic. Nonetheless, at least six kindergartens and nurseries have ceased operations as of last month, according to government figures.