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Thursday, Jan 21, 2021

Parents of students at Hong Kong international school demand 30 per cent cut in tuition fees amid economic downturn caused by pandemic

Parents at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong say the management should take a cue from its Dubai branch which has reduced fees by 15 per cent. But school principal says it is not possible to provide a discount on tuition fees without cutting down on services

More than 240 parents of students at a Hong Kong international school have demanded a 30 per cent cut in its tuition fees, warning that they would withdraw their children from classes if it did not respond by Wednesday.

Parents at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong said they had difficulties in paying monthly tuition fees amid the economic downturn brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and the school should take a cue from its Dubai branch and offer a reduction in fees.

But school principal Brian Cooklin told parents on Tuesday that the school had already offered a freeze in fees for the 2020-21 academic year.

“It is not possible to provide a discount on tuition fees without damaging the service being provided. This could only be achieved through redundancies of teachers, as staffing is the major expenditure,” Cooklin wrote in an email response to parents.

“We have introduced pay cuts, a recruitment-and-pay freeze, and reduced other costs for the next session,” he added.

He told the Post parents with financial difficulties could avail their bursary scheme.

“We’ve also frozen fees for the next year. We have received many messages of thanks from parents for taking this step and for how our teachers have navigated this crisis to ensure our students continue to receive high-quality education,” Cooklin said.

According to Nord Anglia Hong Kong’s previous financial reports, the school had suffered a total comprehensive deficit of HK$49.5 million (US$6.4 million) in 2017-18 despite having received nearly HK$150 million in tuition fees. More than HK$100 million was used in paying staff salaries, bonuses and allowances that year.

The school charges between HK$75,000 to HK$182,000 annually for nursery to secondary students.

Most of Hong Kong’s 900,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary school pupils, including more than 40,000 studying at international schools, have been doing lessons online after classes were suspended in early February amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent to the school last week, 248 families representing more than 315 students at Nord Anglia Hong Kong asked principal Cooklin to promise a 30 per cent fee reduction for the period between April and June, as well as a further tuition fee cut by September if schools remained partially or fully closed.

A parent who has two children studying at the school said she had taken a pay cut at work for the pandemic but was still paying HK$30,000 in tuition fees a month. She also said online learning that was being provided to primary school pupils was inadequate.

“We are paying for eight hours of school [each day], but we are getting two, maybe one [during online learning],” she said. “[Financial uncertainties] are going to be long term. We are trying to save as much as we can, and I just want to get my [part] for what I pay.”

She said while the school management should take pay cuts, the pressure should not be passed on to the teachers. If the school insisted on not offering any discounts, she said she would consider transferring her kids to another school.

“A lot of teachers are working even harder because they’re working off a very challenging [online] platform. We don’t want the teachers to suffer in any way.”

Nord Anglia Education has 61 international schools, boarding schools and private schools in 28 countries. In 2018, more than 1,200 students were studying on its three campuses in Hong Kong.

A letter sent to parents by Nord Anglia International School’s Dubai branch last week mentioned a 15 per cent discount in fees for the third term, after nearly 700 parents asked for a tuition fee cut earlier this month.

Another parent found it “inappropriate” that the Hong Kong branch of the school was only receiving a freeze in next year’s tuition fees while parents at the Dubai branch received a discount.

He said his family had been facing huge financial pressure after he was put out of a job in February amid the pandemic.

“The income of my family has reduced by more than 50 per cent, and it’s becoming financially very stressful to actually cover the costs of being in Hong Kong,” he said, adding he would consider moving his kids to his home country if no discount was offered.

An online petition initiated last month by a parent at an international school operated by the English Schools Foundation (ESF) had also collected more than 2,600 signatures demanding that the government subsidise private schools for a refund of school fees.

A parent at Harrow International School Hong Kong said compared with private schools in Britain which had provided reductions for tuition and boarding fees for the summer term, it was “frustrating” to see Hong Kong’s private schools not following similar practices.

Most of Hong Kong’s private and international schools, including Harrow Hong Kong, said they would freeze next year’s tuition fees at the same level of this year’s, but did not commit to any reduction or discount in this year’s tuition fees.

The Education Bureau, which last week had committed to offering up to HK$80,000 to each private school amid the pandemic, on Tuesday said it would keep close contact with private and international schools as they faced different levels of financial burden during the class suspension period.


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