Direct-subsidy schools' fee rises a worrying sign of inequality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 4:15am

The Direct Subsidy Scheme allows more leeway for government-funded schools to run their own affairs and introduce innovations in education. With many schools, that has led to significant improvement. But a side effect has been a constant rise in tuition and fees.

Since many directly subsidised schools are considered elite and much sought after, there is a danger lower-income families are being priced out of them. This bodes ill for social equality.

At least 16 secondary schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme have informed the Education Bureau they intend to raise fees in the next academic year. Most are asking for increases of 5.6 to 6.9 per cent. St Stephen's College wants to raise annual fees to HK$56,500, Diocesan Boys' School to HK$40,300, and Ying Wa College to HK$17,600. The schools have defended their increases as being necessary to keep up with inflation. QualiEd College in Tseung Kwan O is seeking the biggest jump, from HK$6,000 to HK$8,550 for new pupils, a 42.5 per cent rise. ECF Saint Too Canaan College in Kwun Tong wants to increase fees for new pupils by 20 per cent, to HK$21,000.

Few things guarantee social mobility and equality more than a fair, high-quality education system financed or subsidised by the state. Before the handover, when most primary and secondary schools were paid for by the government , there was a much greater sense of equality in education. While it is true the Direct Subsidy Scheme pre-dated the handover, it only expanded rapidly after education reforms went astray under the city's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Initially, the main reason many publicly funded schools switched to direct subsidy was so that they could teach lessons in English rather than Chinese, after the Tung administration imposed mother-tongue teaching on most government-funded schools. But the funding scheme expanded under his successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, even as Tsang relaxed mandatory mother-tongue teaching. Schools find they can just take the money and still enjoy more autonomy. What's not to like?

We must make sure good subsidised schools are open to qualified students, regardless of family incomes. The bureau needs to scrutinise fee rises more thoroughly before approval. Schools must make sure poorer families are not penalised by providing sufficient scholarships and grants.