At least four in five of Hong Kong’s 52 international schools received more than HK$180 million (US$23.22 million) in government wage subsidies as part of the coronavirus relief package, a Post analysis has found.
The top beneficiary was the city’s biggest international school group, the English Schools Foundation (ESF), which received more than HK$71 million, while dozens of other schools received help to the tune of millions of dollars each for the period from June to August.
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With face-to-face classes suspended for four months because of the pandemic, some schools offered fee discounts in recent months and introduced financial assistance schemes for students who need help. Some have frozen tuition fees for the 2020-21 academic year
But some with children in international schools have urged the institutions to do more, saying parents are going through difficult times, including facing pay cuts and lay-offs.
The government’s HK$81 billion Employment Support Scheme is designed to save jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, offering a monthly subsidy to cover up to 50 per cent of employees’ wages, capped at HK$9,000 per worker. The first round extended from June to August. Employers had to apply for the subsidy and pledge not to lay off any staff.
The ESF received the money to help the school community as a whole, and this should be passed onto the parents, because parents have not stopped paying school fees
A parent with children at English Language Foundation schools
The international schools received help under that first instalment, extended to more than 149,000 employers. A second phase covering September to November will open for applications on Monday.
Most of the city’s universities, primary and secondary schools are not eligible, as they are funded or run by the government. But private institutions, including international schools, can apply, as they are mostly self-financed.
About 40,000 of the city’s 700,000 primary and secondary students study at international schools, which charge tuition fees of up to HK$200,000 (US$25,800) or more per year.
A check of the subsidies given out from June to August showed that at least 78 private primary and secondary schools received about HK$280 million for about 10,000 employees.
Among them were 42 international schools which received more than HK$180 million, or an average of about HK$25,000 per employee over the three months.
The ESF’s HK$71 million subsidy was for 2,954 staff across its 22 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, including those running its after-school programmes. Fourteen of the group’s primary and secondary schools are classified as international schools and the rest are private schools, kindergartens and a special school.
Hong Kong International School, which provides kindergarten, primary and secondary education, received HK$14 million for 528 workers, while Yew Chung International School, whose programmes run from infant-care and pre-nursery to secondary levels, received HK$13.8 million for 575 employees.
The Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy received HK$12.1 million for 448 staff members, while Chinese International School and French International School each received more than HK$9 million for 370 and 415 employees, respectively.
Some expat parents have taken their children out of school after months of classes being suspended, and some have sent their kids back to their home countries
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen
Although face-to-face classes have been suspended for more than four months, many schools still charged the full tuition fees. Some rolled out financial assistance packages or offered discounts over recent months.
A spokeswoman from Hong Kong International School said the government subsidies had “helped avoid lay-offs and keep jobs”.
But some parents felt the schools that received subsidies should offer more financial help, as many of them have been facing difficulties of their own.
Parents who send their children to international and private schools include expatriates and those who are relatively wealthy, but education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said some are not as well-off and could be spending a significant proportion of their income on their children’s school fees.
He pointed out that some of these parents have taken pay cuts or lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
“Some expat parents have taken their children out of school after months of classes being suspended, and some have sent their kids back to their home countries. This has also affected the schools’ income,” he said.
ISF Academy, which has about 2,000 students attending its pre-primary, primary and secondary programmes, said its own financial help arrangements for parents “far exceeded” the sum it received from the government.
A spokeswoman said all students could receive financial help of HK$10,000 to cover fees in the 2020-21 academic year, and the academy has set aside funds to support families in need.
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The ESF group announced a 45 per cent discount for June’s tuition fees, but one parent with three children in its schools said there ought to be further fee reductions as face-to-face lessons had been suspended for more than four months.
“The ESF received the money to help the school community as a whole, and this should be passed onto the parents, because parents have not stopped paying school fees. The whole amount should be passed on to parents,” he said.
An ESF spokeswoman said the group dipped into reserves to provide grants and financial help to families in need, including 160 families who received financial support through its financial assistance scheme, which amounted to more than HK$18 million. She added that the group would “continue to consider ways in which we can financially support our families”.
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Nord Anglia International School, which has about 1,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary students, received HK$4.6 million in subsidies for 178 staff. It announced a 12 per cent discount in fees for its third term from April to June.
A parent with a child at the school said it should apply for a second instalment of the scheme, to offer more financial relief to parents.
The Post posed questions to Nord Anglia, but the school did not respond.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said that aside from the Employment Support Scheme, all private and international schools also received a one-off grant of HK$80,000 in April.
She added that the bureau would stay in touch with those in the education sector and provide further help when necessary.