Government-subsidised private schools have been warned to keep affordability in mind as they look to increase fees - in one case by more than 40 per cent.
At least 16 of the 62 secondary schools that receive funding under the Direct Subsidy Scheme have told the Education Bureau they intend to push up fees for the next academic year ahead of tomorrow's deadline to do so.
The scheme gives schools more power to set fees, curriculums and admission criteria than other types of government funding, but has been accused of pricing some poorer pupils out of schools that were once free.
Three of the nine so-called elite direct-subsidy secondary schools are seeking increases of 5.6 to 6.9 per cent. St Stephen's College wants to increase annual fees to HK$56,500, Diocesan Boys' School wants fees of HK$40,300 and Ying Wa College wants an increase to HK$17,600. The schools said the increases were in line with inflation.
QualiEd College in Tseung Kwan O is seeking the biggest increase, from HK$6,000 to HK$8,550 for new pupils, a 42.5 per cent rise. ECF Saint Too Canaan College in Kwun Tong wants to increase fees for new pupils by 20 per cent to HK$21,000.
The Education Bureau says schools must explain their grounds for charging higher fees, submit their budgets and show that they have consulted parents.
Chiu Cheung-ki, chairman of the Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said the difference in fees reflected different financial situations.
"Some schools are set to introduce e-learning or small class teaching, which will lead to bigger fee increases," Chiu said.
But education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said: "Direct-subsidy schools should by all means try to maintain healthy and forward-looking finances [but must] consider whether parents can afford a tuition fee increase when there has to be one."
Stephen Kai Ping-chung, chairman of the Federation of Parent Teacher Associations in Kwun Tong, urged schools to split fee increases over several years rather than attempting to introduce them in one go.
"The schools should also set aside more tuition fee revenues for fee remission and scholarships for needy pupils," he said.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said it would "study carefully the accounts and budget of individual schools and whether the schools have followed instructions to consult parents, provide them with appropriate information and respond to their concerns and comments".
The Direct Subsidy Scheme has proved controversial since its introduction in 1991. Last year, the elite St Stephen's Girls' College scrapped a plan to join the scheme, opting to remain a free government-aided school, while an application from St Paul's Secondary School was rejected.