ESF - English Schools Foundation

Discovery College parents angry over ESF fee increase, levy

A fee rise of almost 10pc and a non-refundable building levy for Discovery College has sparked anger and calls for government intervention

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 5:44pm

Parents at an English Schools Foundation private school have voiced their anger over a fee rise of nearly 10 per cent and a non-refundable building levy. Some say they will refuse to pay.

They say the increase and the levy, introduced to cut losses and maintain the buildings at Discovery College, lack proper justification and have asked the government to step in.

"I decided not to pay ... both myself and my wife agreed. What we can do is to make our voices heard. The end result will rest with the Education Bureau to make the final decisions," parent Scott Thoreau told the South China Morning Post.

Another parent, Christian Mueller, who is also refusing to pay, has written to the bureau saying it is "extremely unfair and selfish" of the ESF to put such a burden on parents.

The foundation says the levy - announced in 2011 but not implemented for two years and reduced from HKL$9,500 to HK$5,900 - is needed for repairs and maintenance at the Discovery Bay campus.

It says the fee rise is needed to help the school break even within five years.

Chief Executive Heather Du Quesnay said all the new charges at the school, run by affiliate ESF Educational Services, were necessary.

Parents were told of the 9.5 per cent fee rise and the levy in a letter - dated March 20 and signed by Du Quesnay, who chairs ESF Educational Services, and Discovery College principal Mark Beach - that noted "Discovery College continues to record an annual financial deficit".

Mueller rejected this explanation. "It is normal for a new school, as it is for any new business, that it takes many years until such an organisation can break even," he said in his letter.

Mueller said Beach had informed him that an open forum would be held after Easter.

The school's letter to parents said the levy, approved by the Education Bureau, would be collected through 10 instalments.

Mueller said three sets of parents had decided not to pay the levy because they thought it was unfair.

"I have informed [the school] I will not pay for the building fund," he said.

"We have quite a number of parents who have voiced concerns but are scared because they fear their children would lose a place."

Mueller said they hoped the bureau would respond.

"We are hoping that we will have a chance if as many as possible speak out."

After the fee increase, the fees for Discovery College primary division are HK$91,100 to HK$121,900 for Year 7 to Year 11 and HK$123,200 for Year 12 to Year 13.

In a reply to the Post, Du Quesnay said the ESF and the college had been working hard to keep parents well informed on the school's financial situation.

"Next year, the college will have its first cohort of Year 13 students which will require a further expansion of the staffing establishment," she said.

"This will add to the pressures created by the need to raise pay by 3.5 per cent in line with other ESF schools."

She said the college operated under an agreement with the ESF that required it to pay back capital costs of HK$170 million within 20 years of opening.