At least 100 kindergartens have applied to raise their tuition fees by between two and 15 per cent in the new school year, saying they have to cover the cost of offering higher pay to better qualified teachers. A spokesman for the Education Department said that by last Friday, 340 out of the 784 kindergartens had lodged applications for fee revisions. The deadline for fee-rise applications for the 2002/2003 school year closed yesterday. Cheung Man-kwong, the legislator who represents the education constituency, said fee rises were acceptable if the kindergartens recruited better teachers. But he added: 'It's still a heavy burden for parents amid the economic downturn. The Government should increase subsidies for kindergartens.' The supervisor of the Catholic Diocesan Kindergartens, Margaret Lam Lai-ping, said 14 of its 19 kindergartens, which charge about $1,000 a month, had applied for a nine per cent fee rise in September. The Education Department must approve all applications. Kindergartens' Association president Woo Chiu-ha said about 50 of its 70-plus members had applied for rises of between 10 and 15 per cent. 'We have to hire additional teachers to meet the Government's target of halving the teacher-pupil ratio by the 2003/2004 school year as proposed in the 2000 Policy Address,' she said. Since last September, expenses for extracurricular activities, such as ceremonies, picnics and books, have been included in tuition fees. Kindergartens argue they need to cover the cost of such activities. The spokeswoman for pre-school education with the Professional Teachers' Union, Yung Hau-heung, said kindergartens also had to increase salaries to attract better qualified teachers under the Government's reform. All new kindergarten teachers must have completed pre-service training starting from the 2003/2004 school year. The starting monthly salary of these teachers is $2,000 a month more than those who have not attained the qualification. Ms Woo said the fee rises were also prompted by the recent decline in the birth rate. 'There were over 600 kindergartens for 220,000 kindergarten pupils before 1997, while nearly 800 schools have to compete for just 160,000 children now,' she said.