School application fees can be kept high but should be offset

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 4:09pm

The report, “Watchdog probes school application fees” (May 13), highlighted the huge variation in kindergarten application fees, noting that the significantly high fees charged by some schools have prompted an official investigation by the Ombudsman.

School application fees in international schools are very high and non-refundable.

The schools defend the high fees as necessary due to administrative costs associated with processing applications. The counter view is that schools charge high application fees because, well, they can, and it’s an additional revenue stream.

As chief executive of an international pre-school, where our current application fee is just HK$50, I think the question is: should application fees even be charged at all?

After all, taking applications in (and therefore enrolling children) is what pays the bills for all the schools, so “administrative cost” for processing applications is really a red herring. If they were to remove the application processing as a function, how would they enrol children (and therefore earn tuition fees)? So, I’m personally not a big fan of high non-refundable application fees – it’s basically another revenue stream.

However, there is a very strong reason for schools to take high application fees as well. Schools need to be able to predict their enrolments for the following year to provide appropriate resources for the school and plan for the students.

With low application fees, parents are incentivised to apply to as many schools as possible, and then even if they’re accepted, they can choose not to show up on the first day of school. A school might be faced with a situation where one is prepared for a far higher number of children than actually show up. And parents will, often, not even bother to inform the school if they’re not enrolling.

With application fees high, only the really serious parents will apply, giving the school a much greater predictability in terms of enrolments.

Perhaps a solution is high, off-settable application fees. Keep application fees high (or leave it to the schools to decide).

If the school rejects the application, then the fee is refunded, which is only fair.

If the school accepts, but the parent does not enrol, then the fee is non-refundable. But, if the school accepts and the parent enrols, then offset the application fees with the first month’s, or term’s, tuition fees.

Aniruddh Gupta, CEO, Safari Kid Asia