Kindergartens rapped over high miscellaneous fees

Schools on voucher scheme are collecting about HK$3,000 in the fees for each pupil every year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 4:55am

Government auditors rapped some kindergartens for imposing high miscellaneous fees on pupils and failing to retain teachers even as they enjoyed large rental subsidies for their premises.

The Director of Audit's latest report studied 740 kindergartens on the government's voucher scheme under which parents received fee subsidies. The scheme was set up to help less well-off families and also to provide schools with the means for professional development.

Auditors found that 60 per cent of miscellaneous fees were not reported on the schools' official profiles although they accounted for up to 44 per cent of all school fees collected.

An average kindergarten charged about HK$3,000 in miscellaneous fees per pupil annually, the report said. In one case, a school collected "other fees" totalling HK$577,000 a year to fund a "student celebration function".

The audit also found that some kindergartens paid "excessive rent" of up to 84 per cent higher than the market rate assessed by the Rating s and Valuation Department, with the help of the government subsidies they received. In one case, a school reported paying a monthly rent of HK$120,750, but the market rate for the premises was assessed to be just HK$65,500.

The report called for a review of the rent subsidy scheme, which it highlighted as a key area for reform ahead of discussions about providing 15 years of free education.

The audit also found that kindergartens under the voucher scheme suffered from high teacher turnover rates. While at 22 per cent for the 2010-2011 academic year, it was still lower than the 27 per cent for those outside the scheme, this was still an issue that "warrants attention".

The report urged the Education Bureau to improve its governance of the city's preschools, advising it to "explore ways to address the challenges faced by kindergartens and parents".

It is very important to address the problems because a few bad examples can have a negative impact on the whole sector

Rosa Chow Wai-chun, chairman of the Early Childhood Educators Association and a school principal, said the schools' actions could harm the kindergarten education sector's reputation. "It is very important to address the problems because a few bad examples can have a negative impact on the whole sector."

Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim admitted there was room for improvement.

Each year, the government spends HK$2 billion on the voucher scheme, which covers 77 per cent of all kindergartens.