Alert over preschool fee rises at border after kindergarten loses lease

Parents and operators sound the alarm after a Tin Shui Wai kindergarten fails to renew its lease despite an offer to almost double its rent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 4:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 8:40am

Kindergartens in the city's border districts are facing concerns that keen competition to set up shop catering to mainland pupils may drive up tuition fees after a Tin Shui Wai preschool was priced out of its campus by a rival chain.

Topkids International Preschool is to be ousted from its site in Kingswood Villas before September despite having offered to pay nearly double its current rent of about HK$260,000 a month.

It is not known how much the new tenant, Zenith International Education Foundation, has committed to paying its landlord Fortune Real Estate Trust, a subsidiary of tycoon Li Ka-shing's conglomerate Cheung Kong.

The headmistress at Topkids' Tin Shui Wai branch, Carol Chan Yuk-shan, said some kindergartens might see prospects of more pupils crossing the border for education.

"In the end, those who suffer are the parents - they'll have to dig deeper into their pockets for tuition," Chan said yesterday.

Her 20,000 square metre private independent kindergarten runs morning, afternoon and full-day sessions. About 500 pupils and some 50 employees, including teachers, will be evicted for Zenith to take over the site in September.

Zenith operates the only other preschool in the private housing estate. It charges tuition fees of HK$47,000 to HK$67,000 per year, compared with HK$38,000 to HK$57,000 at Topkids - which parents say seldom demands any extra miscellaneous fees.

Chan said parents would have no choice but to register with their competitor despite the higher costs, as time was running out to secure other places.

Man Lai-lar, mother of a five-year-old boy enrolled at Topkids, said: "If we don't take this seriously, many other kindergartens may face similar evictions soon.

"This is about education, not just any business that you can close without affecting anyone."

The kindergarten sent letters to parents yesterday to explain what had happened and will be holding seminars in the evenings, starting today, to discuss arrangements for their children.

Education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the eviction reflected the vibrancy of the kindergarten market, driven by a high demand for places due to the influx of cross-border pupils and a drop in the local birth rate.

"Part of the demand is definitely for private preschools," Ip said. "But there is not enough land to build more kindergartens, so now we see operators competing for land, which will eventually push up tuition charges."

Yannie Chau, principal of Zenith's other kindergarten at Kingswood, gave an assurance that the new preschool would take in all of Topkids' pupils should they apply.

"The Education Bureau monitors the level of tuition fees. We cannot charge parents whatever we want to charge," she added.

Fortune Reit said it had notified Topkids promptly of its decision not to renew the lease so the kindergarten could make appropriate arrangements.

The Education Bureau said it would provide help to the affected parents if necessary.