ESF - English Schools Foundation

Parents urge bureau to block ESF fee increases

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am

Hundreds of parents of children in English Schools Foundation schools have written to the Education Bureau to oppose fee rises of up to 3.3 per cent in the coming academic year.

The campaign, led by the Concerned Parents group - believed to be the biggest waged against a single ESF fee rise - aims to persuade the bureau to block the increase in fees by withholding approval.

Some parents are angry that the latest increases of between 2.2 and 3.3 per cent come in a year when a HK$25,000 refundable levy has also been introduced for children starting at ESF secondary schools.

However, ESF chief executive officer Heather Du Quesnay said the increase was needed to fund a 3 per cent pay rise for teachers and said it was 'imperative' that salaries were raised to keep pace with inflation.

She said the board had made efforts to minimise the financial impact on families of the fee rise but said: 'The ESF board would not have agreed to the increase if they did not believe it would be approved.' A decision is expected by August.

The proposed fee rise will see the annual cost of an ESF primary school place hit HK$63,000, 33.2 per cent more than in 2005-06, and a secondary school place rise to HK$95,100, 21 per cent more than in 2005-06.

The letters sent to the bureau include one from Gunnar Helgason, who said he withdrew his two sons from ESF schools in 2009 and left Hong Kong because of the rising fees.

'I do not believe that ESF's request for higher fees is warranted and I suggest you do not approve the request,' he wrote.

A Hong Kong father wrote that he would not have enrolled his child in an ESF school if he had known fees would rise so steeply.

'A great majority of the local parents who are from middle-income families face the same dilemma as me,' he said. 'We do not see any end in sight to the fee rises.'

Hans Ladegaard, of the Concerned Parents group said: 'People are leaving Hong Kong because they can't afford the school fees. It's sad that the senior management and the board of governors don't care about their stakeholders.

'They have managed to alienate each and every ESF parent that has tried to communicate with them, and now we have to communicate directly with the government and the Education Bureau.

'We have seen no added value to our children's education in the past five years, but we pay 30 per cent more than we did in 2005. Where is our money going? How is the next fee increase justifiable when ESF has huge cash reserves?'

Du Quesnay said the ESF board had been 'sensitive to the financial impact on parents' and had made every effort to minimise the additional cost of schooling.

'We believe that our consultation process was appropriate and most parents have appreciated the board's efforts to minimise the financial impact on families, though of course we understand that the increase puts some parents under pressure,' she said.

However, she stressed: 'Staff remuneration is such a significant part of our expenditure that there is no way in which an increase can be covered except by raising fees, especially given the fact that the subvention has been frozen for many years.'

The ESF receives a government subsidy, frozen for the past 10 years, of HK$283 million.

Last week the foundation's new chairman, Carlson Tong Ka-shing, said he would fight to 'get as much as he can' out of subvention negotiations with the government. 'It's time for the government to review the funding mode for ESF. The government subsidy has been frozen for 10 years, but the number of students has increased and there is inflation, so the subsidy per student has actually come down,' Tong said on Friday.

Du Quesnay argued: 'Hong Kong is moving into a boom economically and all of the inflation indicators are moving up fast. It is imperative that ESF responds to this in decisions about staff pay.

'Under the present economic circumstances, a 3 per cent rise for teachers and other staff appears reasonable but not over generous.'

She added: 'The government has started the process of reviewing the subvention but the outcomes of the review will not influence the level of the subvention until 2012-2013 at the earliest.'

Steep increase

The ESF receives a government subsidy of HK$283 million a year

The new fees will see the annual cost of a primary school place hit HK$63,000, a rise since 2005-06 of more than: 33%