Nord Anglia International School backs down on HK$20,000 levy following parents’ meeting

U-turn followed online petition, but many left concerned at ‘vague promise’ and the fear the extra charge may still be introduced in a year’s time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 9:02am

An international school in Lam Tin has decided to postpone, for at least one year, the introduction of an annual fee of HK$20,000 per child, pending further consultation, parents said following a meeting with the school’s management on Wednesday evening.

Some parents welcomed Nord Anglia International School’s decision but many remained worried that the school might introduce the non-refundable levy and other similar fees in the future.

The U-turn came after hundreds of parents at the school signed an online petition protesting against the proposal, which the school principal informed parents about in an email on January 12.

It said that they needed to pay before the next school year starts in September to fund the school’s expansion and a planned second campus.

There has been heavy criticism from parents that the school, whose parent company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, did not inform them about the possibility of such extra charges when they signed their children up. They also said the school did not consult them before introducing the levy.

According to different parents who attended the Wednesday meeting – all of whom insisted on speaking anonymously, concerning over potential impact on their children – more than 300 attended the meeting, where principal Brian Cooklin apologised and promised to start consultation, first through questionnaires, after the Lunar New Year, which is on February 8.

They said the school promised to postpone the levy for one year, during which it would also study other possible options to fund the expansion plans. But the school did not promise them that it would not introduce similar extra fees in the future.

“We are very worried because there was no certainty in what the management is telling us,” said one mother. “It’s all very vague.”

Another mother said she had applied for her child to transfer to another school and that if Nord Anglia decided to introduce the levy after one year of consultation, she would leave. She said the levy was not the main reason for her plan to move her child out but it “made me consider [things] more seriously”.

One father said the meeting was “productive” and “a step in the right direction”.

“Most parents really compliment the quality of teaching at the school,” he said. “They were just really disappointed and concerned by the announcement of the levy, which has now been put back. We will wait and see.”

The school had not replied to a Post request for comment because it was after office hours on Wednesday evening.

In Cooklin’s earlier email, he also informed parents about a 2 per cent tuition fee increase for the next school year, putting the fees at HK$141,150 for primary section pupils and HK$157,450 for secondary pupils.

All parents are also required to pay a non-refundable “capital enrolment fee” of HK$80,000 when they confirm their acceptance of the school’s offer, unless they have purchased the school’s HK$500,000 partially-refundable debenture, which will give their children priority in admission.

The Education Bureau granted the school, whose sponsoring body was registered as a charity, its Lam Tin site in April 2014 at a nominal rent. But international schools do not need to gain the bureau’s approval in charging miscellaneous fees other than tuition fees.

Critics have said this was why many international schools had introduced charges in various names to evade supervision. They said the dispute highlighted again the government’s failure to regulate international schools, despite granting them premises at low rents.