ESF parents to ask government to block fee rise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

Parents angry at fee rises of up to 3.3 per cent for English Schools Foundation (ESF) pupils in the coming academic year are writing to the Education Bureau asking officials to block the increase in schooling costs.

They argue that the HK$27 million cost of giving teachers a 3 per cent pay rise in the 2011-2012 school year should be paid for by cost-cutting, noting that the ESF reported a surplus of HK$89 million last year.

However, ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said yesterday that the surplus had already been swallowed up by capital spending, and said the next year's surplus would be lower because of inflation and continuing building projects.

Du Quesnay e-mailed parents last week to say the ESF board of governors had decided to increase fees for the coming academic year by between 2.26 and 3.28 per cent, raising fees for most secondary school pupils to HK$95,100 a year.

The rises follow cumulative increases of 29 per cent in ESF primary school fees, 19 per cent in secondary school fees and the introduction of a HK$25,000 refundable capital levy for secondary school pupils starting in September.

The Concerned ESF Parents group, which is campaigning for a freeze on fees and a scrapping of the levy, said supporters had begun writing to the Education Bureau appealing for it to block the latest fee rise. The ESF receives a government subsidy, frozen for the past 10 years, of HK$283 million, and its fee rises must be approved by the bureau.

One parent, a chartered accountant who asked not to be identified, contacted the Sunday Morning Post to argue that the ESF should be able to fund the proposed increase in teacher salaries without raising fees.

'Why raise school fees again and again?' he asked. 'Lots of parents are from middle-income families without expatriate allowances or education allowances. We are paying almost HK$10,000 a month and we just can't afford [it]... It is becoming unaffordable, which is contrary to the mission of the ESF.

'I am Chinese and I welcome expatriates here in Hong Kong, but I have seen a lot of families who are going home for good because they simply can't afford it any more. We are going to alert the Education Bureau to this, and I am sure they will scrutinise this very carefully.'

Another parent said: 'We need ESF to fight for an increased government subvention, and I don't see that happening. Instead I see money being frittered away. Why are they spending so [many] millions of dollars on their headquarters and on hiring people in marketing ...? There's a long waiting list for ESF places, so they don't need to do any marketing.

'My husband's salary hasn't gone up. A lot of us are not exactly hurting but we are aggrieved because there is no need for fees to keep rising. It is a shame on the board of governors for passing this fee rise. I believe [the government] won't approve it.'

Responding to the complaints, Du Quesnay said: 'Parents have the right to make representations to the Education Bureau... We report to [the bureau] in detail about the way in which fee calculations are made. The board would not have agreed to the increase if they did not believe it would be approved.'

She stressed that last year's surplus of HK$89 million did not represent cash in the ESF account, saying the money had been used on capital spending of HK$137 million including works on buildings, computers, furniture and fittings, and air-conditioning. The ESF faces significant financial demands in the year ahead with inflationary cost increases, depreciation expenses and the Island School rebuilding project, she added.

Du Quesnay said: 'The ESF board and the management are committed to find efficiency savings to cover some of these additional costs, but there will be an inevitable impact on the surplus. Parents should also bear in mind that we have some very big construction costs about to arise from the Kowloon Junior and KGV projects, so our cash flow will be under a good deal of pressure over the next few years.'

Concerned ESF Parents spokesman Hans Ladegaard said: 'Personally, I'm not optimistic that the Education Bureau will block the fee rise ... A lot of parents tried hard in 2008, but did not succeed. On the other hand, we have nothing to lose, and we're investigating at the moment how we can present our complaints to the Education Bureau. I know of several ESF parents who already have complained, so they are aware of the problem. We'll keep fighting.'