Dozens of Hong Kong kindergartens plan to raise fees under ‘free’ school policy

Some principals say they expect greedy landlords to take advantage of government subsidies and push up rents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:21pm

A “free” kindergarten policy may have made things worse for some parents, as at least 47 schools signing up for the scheme are expected to charge even higher fees than they do now.

At least two other kindergartens that did not impose fees this year said they expected to start charging next school year, when the scheme would be implemented.

Under the policy announced in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s policy address in January, half-day kindergartens will receive a subsidy equivalent to HK$33,190 per pupil, while whole-day ones will get HK$43,150 to HK$53,100.

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All kindergartens under the policy who operate on private venues will also receive subsidies equivalent to half the market rent. Currently, kindergartens do not receive subsidies but parents receive a voucher of HK$23,230 per child to cover fees.

About 20 per cent of half-day kindergartens joining the scheme can still charge tuition fees, while all the whole-day kindergartens may charge fees.

“In principle, the government subsidy is enough to enable kindergartens to provide half-day, free and high-quality education services,” an Education Bureau spokesman said. “Whole-day kindergartens should keep their tuition fees at a low level.”

The bureau felt that 20 of 738 preschools joining the scheme had overestimated their fees. The spokesman said that if they failed to give a convincing explanation for the figures, the bureau might not approve the fees.

The new tuition fees projected by the 47 kindergartens are higher than under the voucher system, meaning some parents may find themselves worse off.

A branch of Sun Island English Kindergarten in Belcher’s Street, Kennedy Town, currently charges HK$5,522 a year under the voucher system, but with the new policy it may charge between HK$12,012 and HK$18,000.

Piera Ling, spokeswoman for Sun Island, said its branches operated on private premises and might face rent increases, so the kindergarten had factored this in.

“We took into consideration the worst scenarios,” Ling said. “We cannot rule out that our landlords may want a massive rent hike now that we will receive a rent subsidy.”

Principals had previously urged the government to set up a rent control system to prevent the rent subsidy from “serving the landlords” by giving them an excuse to push up rents.

Kwok Chor-kiu, chairwoman of the Tai Po and North District Early Childhood Education Principal Association, said many kindergartens could have given a higher initial estimation of fees as they were worried about the transition to the new scheme.

But Kwok noted that the higher estimates were not an issue as the bureau would review the proposals.

Kwun Tong Baptist Church Kindergarten and Kowloon Ling Liang Church Nursery, which did not charge under the voucher system, estimated it might now set fees ranging up to HK$10,000.

To meet rising demand, the Education Bureau is planning to work with the Lands Department to set aside land slots for kindergarten development in new town development plans.