ESF - English Schools Foundation

Discovery College parents complain to Ombudsman over fee increases

Discovery College action group contacts Ombudsman over hefty long-term rises of up to 53 per cent at the financially troubled school

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 5:25am

Discovery College parents have complained to the Ombudsman over hefty fee increases imposed by the financially troubled school.

The 150-member Discovery College Concerned Parents Group decided to take its case to the complaints body after failing to get a meeting with the Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim. The group wrote to the Education Bureau requesting a meeting late last month but have yet to receive a reply.

The parents are angry about proposed fee increases of at least 53 per cent over the next five years and say they should not be held responsible for the school's financial state.

"None of the financial issues are the responsibility of current parents," said one.

The college, with its state-of-the-art building on Lantau Island, is under pressure due to what the school has conceded is a flawed financial model.

Its operator, ESF Educational Services - a subsidiary of English Schools Foundation - also needs to return a huge construction loan to the ESF although the loan repayment period has been extended from 20 to 25 years.

For the coming academic year, the college has proposed a 7.6 per cent increase in tuition fees, taking the fees to HK$89,500 a year for primary pupils and HK$119,880-HK$121,100 for secondary. Parents are also being asked to pay a HK$5,900 nonrefundable building levy.

"We strongly oppose these increases, as many parents cannot afford them," the group wrote in its letter to the Ombudsman.

"We have very limited [affordable English-medium] alternatives and as a result of the projected fee increases, the school itself is at risk of losing further students. Such a scenario would increase the already significant financial problems and could doom it to failure."

The group's dissatisfaction was further fuelled by news last week that the school is apparently planning to build a HK$1 million new gymnasium for Year 12 and 13 students. "If this is true, this is a scandal in the current environment," said parent Christian Mueller.

As a private independent school, the college is self-financing and enjoys autonomy in its operation.

The Education Bureau has said it will not micro-manage the operation of such a school but it did encourage schools to maintain adequate transparency in their financial information, communicate closely with parents regarding the use of reserves and ensure that all needy students were provided with financial assistance or relief.

ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said the fee increases were necessary to cut the college's debts.

"We will keep on looking for ways to reduce the financial burden on parents," she said.