Invictus International School is offering unemployed parents who are affected by Covid-19 a free education for the rest of this academic year. The primary school in Hong Kong Island, which opened last September, will waive fees for anyone within its community who has lost their job due to the Covid-19 virus. It will also review the fees of any parents who have taken salary cuts, and offers to extend further financial support to expat families at other schools.
Invictus enrols students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 at its campus in Tseung Kwan O, where annual fees are HKD 100,000 payable in 10 instalments of HKD 10,000. Its founder has made an unprecedented move to match the unprecedented times facing parents within Hong Kong. John Fearon, who launched Invictus to be one of Hong Kong's most affordable schools, has taken the lead with his offer to support families who are struggling to pay tuition fees.
In a letter to parents, Fearon said:
“Invictus has chosen to support our Hong Kong community by offering to waive fees for this academic year (2019-2020), for parents who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 virus situation. Invictus is also open to reviewing the fees for students whose parents have had to take salary cuts, based upon an assessment by us.
“This community support offer will also be extended to parents of students enrolled for August 2020, based upon our capacity.”
Read more: John Fearon: A Game Changer in Education?
As reported in the South China Morning Post, Nord Anglia International School, Hong Kong is one of the first international schools to offer parents discounted fees in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is discounting its term three fees by 12%.
The discount, which covers the April-June term, will be applied to the first term of the 2020-21 academic year.
NAIS HK has a primary and secondary campus in Lam Tin, and early years campuses in Tai Tam and the New Territories. The school had already said that fees would be frozen for the 2020-21 academic year.
Many international schools are freezing tuition fees for the 2020-21 academic year. Following the English Schools Foundation’s announcement last month that fees would be frozen at all 22 of its schools, other international schools have followed suit. These include Hong Kong Academy, Canadian International School, Korean International School, Mount Kelly School, Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, Christian Alliance International School, and Wycombe Abbey School.
International schools typically increase fees by around 3-4%, so this decision does offer parents some financial relief. However, what will it mean for the schools in terms of cutbacks?
For example, Christian Alliance International School (CAIS) told parents:
“The tuition fees will be frozen at the same level as this year. This will impact on school finances given we have a major building project going on, and our operating expenses for next year continue to increase as part of our ongoing commitment to strengthening our curriculum and teaching quality.
"However, the heart of the RMC (Registered Management Committee) is to share the financial pain alongside the families it serves.”
Schools are offering other ways to save too. For example, Wycombe Abbey is delaying the payment of its capital levy until June 2020, and Stamford American School, Hong Kong is currently waiving its application and assessment fees.
Several schools are yet to make a decision on fees for the next academic year, and there is the possibility that some schools may increase their fees. International schools need to submit any proposed increases to Hong Kong’s Education Bureau by the end of April so there should be more answers next month
Hong Kong is among the 10 most expensive countries for an international education, according to an ExpatFinder survey. And, while schools in Hong Kong have been closed for more than 12 weeks, they have not offered any discounted fees for the period of distance learning.
By comparison, some international schools in other popular expat destinations are offering parents some reduction in fees after just a few weeks of school closures. For example, private schools in the UAE are offering immediate discounts of 10-30% on this term’s fees; parents needing further support are often encouraged to approach the school for additional support on a "case by case" basis.
There is no government directive on fee reductions in the UAE, and schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are making unilateral decisions on how much to discount fees and for how long.
There are two sides to consider here. Schools need fees to survive, and money that schools collect goes, largely, to paying staff, rent, and running costs. However, that does not change the fact some form of financial support needs to be put in place for parents who do meet financial difficulties because of Covid-19.
Many international schools already offer parents financial aid in the form of scholarships and bursaries; they have existing schemes that can be applied for annually and are either means-tested or awarded for academic excellence.
Some of Hong Kong’s top schools have a scholarship programme that covers the tuition fees for primary and/or secondary education. Competition for scholarships is often high and the application process can be rigorous; while some are only available for Hong Kong permanent residents, others are awarded on a competitive basis to all students regardless of nationality and residency.
Bursaries are available for primary and secondary students at schools including Harrow International School Hong Kong, Victoria Shanghai Academy, and Malvern College Hong Kong. Financial assistance is accessible to students at English Schools Foundation schools in the event of “sudden and unexpected” change of circumstances.
Read more: Scholarships in Hong Kong
The Education Bureau (EDB) is still offering financial relief to all families in Hong Kong by offering one-off grants of HKD 2,500 for students at kindergarten, primary and secondary schools. Students at both local and international schools, including Direct Subsidy Scheme schools and English Schools Foundation schools, can apply for a grant for the 2019-20 academic year; applications close two weeks after schools reopen.
We’re also seeing schools respond to the Covid-19 situation with new offers of financial aid.
CAIS has extended the deadline for its Fees Reduction Scheme, which “assists families with significant financial need” and hopes to offer a 2019/20 COVID-19 Financial Relief Grant for “families who face financial burden”.
Invictus is offering parents a ‘sweetener’ discount of more than HKD 30,000 off 2020-21 fees for its Chai Wan campus, which is opening in August for Grades 7-13. Its early bird specials include a two-year discounted annual tuition fee of HKD 88,000 per year for Grades 7-13; this is HKD 32,000 cheaper than the standard HKD 120,000 fee. The offer only applies to the first 50 registered secondary school students who apply before May 31.