Some time ago, the SCMP reported that GSIS was illegally charging high application fees for its kindergarten (Schools breaking the rules on fees; 23 Dec 2013). Today, the SCMP revisits the issue since the Ombudsman has launched an official investigation (Revealed: 40 Hong Kong kindergartens allowed to set application fees up to 90 times official ceiling; 13 May 2016) Last year, the Education Bureau gave around 40 preschools to charge application fees far above the approved ceiling of $40. These are schools with a kindergarten section leading to a primary section, not standalone kindergartens.
The most extreme example is the German Swiss International School. A basic application costs $3,700; this amount is non-refundable. If the child passes the first filter and is invited to an interview/assessment, the parents are then charged a further $4,300, making a total cost of $8,000! This is $7,960 above the recommended maximum by the EDB. These application and assessment fees are the highest of any private school in Hong Kong – topping those charged by Chinese International School, Hong Kong International School ($2,000 + $2,000) and Harrow International School ($1,500).
In fact, unlike some other schools, the GSIS application form is very simple with no essays so the processing effort should be minimal. Schools will generally argue that, due to their selective system, their administration fees in screening applicants can be onerous and time consuming and, therefore, the fees are justified. Yet, some schools charge an additional fee for assessments, as does GSIS and CIS.
Of course, these fees are an additional income stream for the schools too since most parents will adopt the ‘scattergun approach’ and apply to multiple schools in the hopes they get just one offer.
To date, these schools don’t need justification to charge exhorbitant application fees – just permission from the EDB to charge higher fees which seems to be a rubber stamp year after year.
Parents have suggested that the high fee acts a deterrent to many and also a form of screening for the school to identify the socio economic status of the family.
If this investigation led to a crackdown on these schools and imposed the maximum HK$40 application fee, what would happen? The balance would be transferred to an ‘assessment fee’ which is unregulated, as are capital levies, debentures and any other fees the school cares to charge. The EDB are concerned with application fees and tuition fees. So, parents still lose.