Parents balk at extra fees

Education | Cara Chen 8 Sep 2020

Amid months of class suspensions, schools and parents are having a difficult time not only due to concerns over modes of instruction but also over school fees, especially for private schools.

Despite several schools offering tuition subsidies and financial support schemes due to the suspensions and the economic recession, some international school parents want more.

For example, they believe some outdoor activities fees should be voluntary.

One parent of an American International School student said the school refused to cancel its outdoor education and learning program fee, despite parents' view that related activities will not take place in the near future.

The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said parents have been charged an OELP fee of HK$5,100 for the current school year - on top of a HK$1,400 activities fee and a HK$350 field study fee.

"We are concerned about all the uncertainty in the world due to the pandemic, where the new normal is social distancing and avoiding travel," said the mother, who is also a teacher. "These demands and fees are unnecessary."

In response, the school has told parents to make payments for outdoor activities planned for the second term, which will be next year, via a third party vendor.

However, some parents have doubts regarding the school's justification for such a move.

"Why do they have to receive money eight months in advance for events happening in March or April, especially during such uncertain times?" she asked.

In fear of losing their child's place in the school for the current academic year, some parents have already paid the OELP fee. Still, they pointed out they won't be sending their children to any outdoor or camping activities - as this seems to be going against the new normal of social distancing.

American International School did not respond to The Standard's request for comment.

This is not the first time the school has come under fire since schools have closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April, the school announced it would offer parents two rebates on school fees, returning HK$2,500 to HK$4,000 each time.

Offering early childhood to grade 12 education, AIS tuition fees range from HK$87,000 to HK$160,200 per academic year, to be paid in four installments.

However, these fees do not cover school outings and other extracurricular activities.

The fourth installment of tuition fees for the last school year and the first payment for the current school year were offset by relief funding.

According to the latest government figures, the school has about 600 students this year, meaning the total rebate was at least HK$3 million.

But a group of parents have been pushing for a 30 percent cut in tuition fees and called the rebate offer "hardly enough" to help them cope with the financial difficulties brought about by the pandemic.

However, the school stressed that fees would not be reduced, but will instead be frozen, for the current year.

According to the government, the school received HK$2 million in wage subsidies for 96 staff under the first phase of the Employment Support Scheme.

Moreover, aside from the wage support, the education bureau had in April disbursed a one-off relief grant of HK$80,000 to all private and international schools.

In the same month, the city's biggest international school group, the English Schools Foundation, announced it would offer parents an assistance package, including a 45 percent discount on tuition fees for June.

Nord Anglia International School offered parents a 12 percent fee cut in fees for April to June, following a petition signed by 250 parents.

The ESF received a HK$71 million wage subsidy for its 2,954 staff across its 22 kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, including those running afterschool programs.

Nord Anglia, which has about 1,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary students, received HK$4.6 million in subsidies for its 178 staff.

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