East is the new West (VS238 reappears)
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Revolting parents, supine journalists

The story of the week in Hong Kong's First Free English Newspaper (HKFFEN) seems to be the "revolt" by parents against a fee increase by the ESF (English Schools Foundation).

We all know that The Standard (HKFFEN) is run on a shoestring, and in this case it seems clear that the revolting parents have fed a series of stories to the paper, which is only too happy to have something to fill up its local news pages.  It started on Monday (Parents revolt on ESF fee hikes):

Parents of English Schools Foundation students have launched a signature campaign against planned tuition fee rises.  More than 300 signatures have been collected since an online campaign began a month ago, according to Hong Kong University associate engineering professor Albert T Yeung, whose two children have been attending ESF schools for 10 years.

Yeung fears a hike in fees could result in some parents sending their children overseas, especially as it would be the third rise in as many years.  Tuition fees are set to increase, pending Education Bureau approval, by 7 percent to HK$58,100 a year at primary schools and 5 percent to HK$89,250 at the secondary level.

The Standard was so pleased with story that it followed up on Tuesday (Protests grow over ESF fees)

More parents of English Schools Foundation students have stepped forward to complain about the impending rise in tuition fees.  Parents have also criticized the ESF for charging miscellaneous fees for items such as sex education.

Hong Kong University associate engineering professor Albert T Yeung, whose two children are ESF students, said South Island School forces parents to shell out more than HK$10,000 for laptop computers.  Another ESF school charges parents HK$40 for compulsory sex education classes for Primary Six students. "If parents do not pay the extra HK$40, their children will not be allowed to attend the classes," Yeung said.

More parents?  Er, but isn't this the same parent they quoted on Monday?  The very same parent about whom Fumier was rather unkind (The Yeung Ones), in fact.

On Wednesday the story broadened out (Cash row grows as more schools seek to lift fees), though we were also reminded that "English Schools Foundation parents have lashed out at proposed rises of up to 7 percent and yesterday 100 expatriate police officers joined the protest" and there is a picture of ESF boss Heather du Quesnay looking pensive, perhaps after reading HKFFEN. 

On Thursday, there was a report from Wednesday's meeting (ESF chiefs fail parents' test):

Angry parents last night vowed to continue their campaign to stop rises in tuition fees after a meeting with English Schools Foundation chiefs to address the issue ended in acrimony.  About 50 parents bombarded ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay and her senior management with questions during the two-and-a-half hour meeting at Beacon Hill School, Kowloon.

But what's this?

The [Education] Bureau says it has received 30 applications to increase fees from direct subsidized schools for the 2008-09 school year.  St Pauls Co-educational College, Mid-Levels, is seeking a 25 percent increase to HK$60,000 per year, and St Margarets Girls College, also Mid- Levels, has applied for a 25 percent rise to HK$50,000 for S1 to S3 pupils.

The bureau says it takes into account teachers salaries and improvements to school facilities when considering applications.

By Friday hyperbole was the order of the day (ESF finances to face scrutiny by officials):

Education chiefs are to examine the financial plans of the besieged English Schools Foundation before they decide on the organization's application to increase tuition fees. The Education Bureau admitted yesterday that it was alarmed by the recent row between the ESF and parents who have accused the organization of channeling money into its private independent schools - Discovery College and Renaissance College.

In a written reply to The Standard, the bureau said it "will not approve ESF's investment plans per se, but will look at its financing plans including investment in capital projects in the context of its overall budget when examining its fee proposal."

No story here.  The Education Bureau always have to approve increases in school fees, and so their statement says nothing new or interesting.  Did they even say they were 'alarmed by the recent row'?  That's not a direct quote.  One ESF parent is quoted in the story - any guesses who it might be?

Albert T Yeung, whose two children have been attending ESF schools for 10 years, urged the bureau to seriously monitor the ESF's governance. "The government has failed to monitor the ESF, and it has been greatly unfair to our children as subvention to ESF students has decreased despite skyrocketing inflation in recent years."

Skyrocketing inflation in recent years?  Are you sure?

[Update] Oh, I see Fumier is still on the case.

Interestingly HKFFEN's columnist seems to think that this is a lot of fuss about nothing

A lesson for parents on ESF fees
Stephen Brown
Friday, June 20, 2008

I remember well the times when we had 17 percent inflation here, and it is not out of the question that the we can see double digit increases if the current pressures continue to build.

In this context, I found the recent outcry over the English Schools Foundation daring to suggest that its fees might increase, mildly amusing.  Tuition fees are set to increase, pending Education Bureau approval, by 7 percent to HK$58,100 a year at ESF primary schools and 5 percent to HK$89,250 at the secondary level.

According to one parent, who is trying to organize a protest against this outrage, the ESF increased fees for primary schools by 5.4 percent last year to HK$54,300 and by 2.9 percent to HK$85,000 for secondary students. The year before, fees went up by 8.9 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

As in any other country that these parents might be living in, their income tax would be paying the basic costs of a largely free public sector schooling, which they may be happy with. In the eyes of a few parents the fact that they have to pay a "top-up" in Hong Kong for the additional resources that providing an international education requires over and above the basic provision seems, in the first place, to be an outrage.

I am sure that many, and probably the silent majority of parents who send their children to ESF schools, are grateful that their children can receive a pretty decent international education in a Chinese city for such a trifling sum. I certainly was as I was working here and receiving a much higher net income than I would have done in England.

For those parents who have occupations that do not pay sufficiently well to generate the incomes required to enjoy a moderately comfortable standard of living in a leading financial center, I have some sympathy.

However, I have little sympathy with those few parents who seem to be of the view that you can bring up children while retaining the right to enjoy an increasing standard of living every year.

If you really feel that the ESF should take the financial strain so that you can enjoy ever more exotic holidays with the family, I have very bad news for you. Rising inflation may well dramatically erode your standard of living in the next few years and you had better start getting used to it.

Finally, and for the one or two parents whose response to the prospect of local fee rises is to threaten to send their children to school overseas, they should be aware that the best London day schools are now charging HK$300,000 per annum.

What is it with HKFFEN and commas?  The first sentence in the second paragraph is all the over the place, surely?  And some of the news stories seem to be generally quite short of punctuation. Not that I'm sensitive about grammar, of course.


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