Educators have called on the government to allocate government land to not-for-profit kindergarten operators after a Tin Shui Wai school was priced out from its campus by a rival chain.
“In future, more kindergartens should be allowed to run on government land so that they do not need to be affected by the problem of renting a campus,” said education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen in a radio phone-in on RTHK on Wednesday morning. “Rents fluctuate a lot.”
Topkids International Preschool is due to be ousted from its site in Kingswood Villas before September as it failed to secure a lease renewal with its landlord Fortune Real Estate Trust, a subsidiary of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong conglomerate, despite having offered to pay nearly double its rent of about HK$260,000 a month.
It was priced out by rival Zenith International Education Foundation, which operates the only other kindergarten in the private housing estate. It is not clear how much Zenith has agreed to pay for the premises.
Mary Tong Siu-fun, president of the Hong Kong Kindergarten Association, said despite keen competition among kindergartens nowadays, it was rare for an existing and running competitor to acquire a site.
“Competition is always here,” Tong said. “But it used to happen with the opening of a new kindergarten in a new campus. What happens now is an unhealthy way of competition.”
She added that such a trend would commercialise and jeopardise education as “a big chunk of tuition fees from the pupils will go to cover the expenses of paying for rent” and eventually “very limited” resources will go to advancing teaching and learning.
On Wednesday, Zenith published a statement in some Chinese-language newspapers saying that it would offer places to all of the affected children and would charge no more than 5 per cent more than Topkids for tuition fees. Topkids charges HK$3,200 to HK$3,900 per child per month.
Zenith’s statement means that the increased fees would not exceed HK$3,360 and HK$4,095, slightly lower than Zenith’s ordinary tuition fees, which range from HK$3,400 to HK$4,100. Zenith also promised an 85 per cent discount on miscellaneous fees.
Last night, hundreds of parents of pupils at Topkids stood in silence for five minutes to protest the landlord’s decision to close it down.
They called for government action to save the schoool. “If we really can’t stay in our current campus, the government can at least help us find another premises,” said one parent, Kary Lo, adding that parents might take to the streets if the government ignored their demands.