Ombudsman calls for fee-approval controls in private schools

Top News | Michael Shum 15 Jan 2020

The Education Bureau should introduce an approval mechanism for the various miscellaneous charges private schools slap on parents, the Ombudsman urged.

While the bureau monitors how tuition fees are charged, it does not require schools to submit details of extra miscellaneous fees, which could sometimes amount to millions of dollars.

The bureau has not required schools to apply for approval before charging these fees, and there is currently no mechanism on how schools should apply to the bureau for such charges and how they should be assessed.

"The bureau has been adopting a liberal approach in its interpretation of schools' collection of other charges based on legal advice received in 2002," said Ombudsman Winnie Chiu.

The bureau considers the collection of extra charges by private schools to be a private financial arrangement between schools and parents and so does not require approval.

The Ombudsman pointed out that the bureau's practice is incompatible with Education Regulations, as schools are supposedly not allowed to charge any fees other than the inclusive fee printed on the certificate issued by the bureau.

The bureau later conceded, after seeking legal advice, that the collection of any extra miscellaneous charges by private schools in relation to the school education should be subject to its approval.

The watchdog suggested an approval mechanism for extra charges collected by private schools as well as the creation of a database on the charges collected. The bureau accepted the recommendations.

"We will review and improve our existing regulatory mechanism with a view to formulating, as soon as possible, a more comprehensive mechanism for approving the collection of extra charges by private schools, and set up a relevant database," a bureau spokesman said.

"While we are mindful of the legal requirements when devising the regulatory mechanism, we would also take into account the situation and needs of the schools and be careful not to interfere excessively in the operation mode of private schools."

The Ombudsman also looked into the increase in school fees amid public concerns. The watchdog scrutinized information on applications for school fee revision as there were cases where schools were given approval to increase fees by more than 20 percent. But those were isolated cases in which the bureau justified the increases and the Ombudsman found no impropriety on the part of the bureau in making approvals according to its established mechanism.

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