The Office of the Ombudsman, in a statement pointed to how 147 of Hong Kong's "semi-autonomous"schools – those under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS), as well as private and international schools – had been given the green light to raise fees last year, with some of them charging more than HK$200,000 (US$25,000) a year.
According to the report in South China Morning Post, Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing acknowledged that the Education Bureau had a system for evaluating fee increase applications.
“There are concerns in the community that the bureau’s approval mechanism is lax and lacks transparency, such that those schools can often easily obtain approval to raise their school fees, thereby placing a heavy financial burden on parents,” she said.
She added it was the bureau’s job to ensure fee increases were reasonable and that schools were not “at liberty to unreasonably raise their fees year after year”.
“We are, therefore, very concerned about whether the bureau has in place a sufficiently strict mechanism and proper procedures for approving applications for school fee revisions.”
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said that the application assessment system was reviewed regularly and the bureau would cooperate fully with the watchdog’s investigation.
There are about 1,000 primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, and most are public schools run either by the government or by voluntary bodies. These schools are free for Hong Kong residents, however, they need to follow the Education Bureau’s rules for their curriculum and operations.
School fees are paid for children enrolled in DSS, private or international schools.
There are 241 DSS, private and international schools with a total of about 130,000 children, comprising 20% of all students in the city.
The English Schools Foundation with 22 campuses is the biggest international school group. In March 2018, the group proposed fee increases of up to 24.7%.
DSS schools can apply to the bureau each year to revise their fees and as of May, 42 schools had requested an adjustment.
Ombudsman Lau said: "The investigation would cover the Education Bureau’s criteria and procedures for approving fee revision applications, and how it regulated the amount collected by schools. The watchdog would then make recommendations for improvement."
The Ombudsman's office called on the public to write in and provide information and views on the matter by July 26.