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‧ It has been decided that parents will pay more school fees. Why do you think the fees rose?
‧ How do you think the extra income should be used?
‧ Do you think education should be free?
ESF fees up; more rises not ruled out
By Liz Heron
Leaders of the English Schools Foundation have refused to rule out further fee increases after presenting parents with a surprise rise in fees of up to 5.3 per cent from August.
Fees will rise by HK$3,750 at the five ESF secondary schools, to HK$93,000 a year, and by HK$2,900, to HK$61,000, at its 11 primary schools. For the first time, parents of students in the last two years of secondary school will pay more, with fees rising HK$4,750, to HK$94,000.
Parents were told of the increase - the fourth in five years - in an e-mail sent by ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay late on Monday after the measure was approved by the governing board. The fee rise takes the cumulative increase since 2005 to 27.3 per cent for primary schools and 17.7 per cent for secondary schools. In November the foundation announced parent would have to pay a refundable levy of HK$25,000 from next year.
The increases come with inflation forecast to increase. The government predicts the composite consumer price index will rise by 2.3 per cent this year. Many independent analysts expect a bigger increase. Since 2005, the CPI has risen by 8.9 per cent.
Du Quesnay said the extra fee income would fund a 2 per cent pay rise for teachers and support staff which was needed to recruit and retain teachers.
"We last raised teachers' salaries two years ago," she said. Comparative studies of teachers' salaries indicated rises of 2 to 3 per cent a year in much of Australia - where many ESF teachers were recruited - while many other international schools in Hong Kong were also planning fee increases.
The extra income will also help fund educational improvements across schools. These include expanding vocational options and Putonghua teaching in secondary schools, employing more classroom assistants and improving special education and learning technology.
"We believe that most parents will be able to afford this increase," she said. "We have a hardship fund and there is no limit on the number of students who can benefit. But we have said we will review fees every year and we will continue to do that."
The ESF's HK$269 million government subsidy for the current school year amounted to 20.6 per cent of its total income, down from 27 per cent in 2000-01, when it was frozen by the government, she said.
An ESF spokeswoman said its reserves had increased from HK$636 million in the past financial year to HK$735 million this year.
Rowena Barroya, of Mid-Levels, a single parent with a 14-year-old daughter at Island School, said: "It is very annoying. Without warning they just drop this bomb in our inboxes and expect us to comply ... The ESF is not accessible any more to ordinary middle-class families."
But public relations consultant Ted Thomas, of Central, who has put five children through the ESF, with two still at secondary school, said their education had been very good value and, even if fees rose, it was still good value. Eric Floyd, of Mid-Levels, who has two children at ESF secondary schools, said the declining share of the ESF's costs covered by its government subvention was contributing towards the fee increases.