A decision by Harrow International School to almost double its debentures to HK$5 million and raise its compulsory annual capital levy by 20 per cent from next year has sparked ire
The Tuen Mun school has said the increases are necessary to help fund its HK$500 million expansion project, which will increase the number of students at the school from around 1,000 to 1,500.
But parents have said the school never consulted them before announcing the changes and serious traffic congestion around the school make it unfit for expansion.
A consultant helping parents look for schools in Hong Kong urged the government to further regulate the operations of international schools.
The Education Bureau has granted land to international schools at low rents, but these schools do not need to gain the bureau’s approval to charge fees outside tuition fees.
“The tuition fees are highly regulated,” said Ruth Benny, founder of Top Schools, which offers advice for parents on schools. “So if I’m a school and I want to raise my tuition 20 per cent, and I know that the [bureau] won’t allow this, I will simply apply for a 5 per cent [tuition fee] increase and then add all the other fees to make up the difference.”
Hong Kong International School in Tai Tam and Hong Kong Academy in Sai Kung have also announced a tuition fee rise by about 4 per cent to HK$203,500 and 4.5 per cent to HK$206,500 respectively, which will take effect from the next school year starting in September.
Harrow announced in January it would raise individual and corporate debentures – which give the children of parents who pay them priority in admission – from HK$3 million to HK$5 million.
The non-refundable capital levy, which all non-debenture holders have to pay every year, will go up from HK$50,000 per child to HK$60,000 starting from September.
The hikes are Harrow’s first increases in debentures or other levies since it opened in 2012. The increases have placed the school’s fees among the most expensive in the city.
The Independent Schools Foundation Academy in Pok Fu Lam charges an even higher debenture at HK$6.5 million.
In a letter to parents, Harrow’s governing board chairman Jack So Chak-kwong said the increases were necessary to fund the school’s expansion plan expected to be completed by August 2018. The expansion will include an extension to the school’s government-granted premises, more classrooms and space for other educational purposes as well as expanded administrative areas.
One parent, who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the school never consulted them before the announcement.
She said it was “unreasonable” to ask parents whose children would leave the school before 2018 to pay for the project. She added there had been serious traffic congestion, noise and air pollution around the school, and more construction work and students would only worsen the problem.
“If the government can improve the quality of publicly-funded schools, parents will not have to pay such high fees for private schools,” she said.
A Harrow spokeswoman said the school had no plan to increase the capital levy again “in the foreseeable future”. She said the school board had begun dialogue with concerned parents.