Big jump in elite schools’ fees

Parents of pupils attending some of the country’s top former model C and private schools face fee hikes of more than R3 500 and R10 000 respectively next year.

The annual school fee does not include the advance payment, the nonrefundable enrolment levy — R65 770 for boarders at one private school on top of the R120 900 tuition fee — or the nonrefundable acceptance fee that parents of pupils who are enrolling their children at some private schools for the first time have to fork out. The additional costs run into tens of thousands of rands.

As school governing bodies hold their annual general meetings to finalise next year’s fee hikes, Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer expressed concern about the above-inflation fee increases some schools have agreed on.

“If it gets out of control, it may be worth considering putting a limit on the percentage increase in school fees, unless they make a formal motivation for it with good reason.”

The National Teachers’ Union has called on the government to regulate fee increases at private schools and to declare all state schools, including former model C institutions, no-fee schools.

Fee increases for next year at some state schools include:

  • Rondebosch Boys’ High in Cape Town: a R3 500 increase from R41 400 to R44 900;
  • Pretoria Boys High: a R3 350 increase for grade 12 pupils from R39 950 to R43 300;
  • Bryanston High in Johannesburg: an increase of R2 750 for grades 10 to 12 pupils from R33 000 to R35 750; and
  • Rand Park High in Johannesburg: an increase of R2 700 from R32 300 to R35 000.

By contrast, in Johannesburg, grade eight to 12 pupils at St Martin’s School will pay an extra R10 300; grade 10 to 12 pupils at St Mary’s School in Waverley will pay R9 500 more; and grade eight to 12 pupils at St Stithians College will pay R9 710 extra.

Besides the R120 900 tuition fee that pupils at St Alban’s College in Pretoria will have to pay next year, day scholars enrolling for the first time will have to pay a nonrefundable enrolment levy of R37 400 and boarders R65 770.

The nonrefundable enrolment levy for 2018 for day scholars has been set at R40 300 and R70 860 for boarders.

In his headmaster’s report last month, Tom Hamilton said St Alban’s had never been in a better position financially and that it had declared a surplus of R3.9-million last year. “With the additional income of R4.73-million through enrolment levies, we were able to approve capital expenditure of R9.4-million and also devote R700 000 to community service projects.”

Hamilton did not respond to questions emailed to him.

St Mary’s School in Waverley will charge an advance payment of R41 300 for pupils wanting to enrol in grades eight to 12 next year.

According to the school, the advance payment secures a place for the pupil at the school and this amount will be refunded “without interest” when a pupil matriculates or leaves the school.

According to the school’s website, “a parent may donate the advanced payment to the school’s foundation when the pupil matriculates or leaves the school”.

The school’s business manager, Maryanne Lansdown, said its operational costs were funded solely from tuition fees. “School fees are determined on a break-even basis after allowing for a small surplus to meet unforeseen expenditure.”

She said the advance payment was an important component of the school’s credit risk management policy.

St Stithians College’s entrance fee next year for pupils from grades R to nine will be R24 000 and the placement fee for grades 0 to 12 at Bishops in Cape Town will be R22 000.

Guy Pearson, the principal of Bishops, said the placement fee was a “once-off, nonrefundable deposit”, which was separate from school fees.

“This is invested straight back into the maintenance and repairs of the buildings and grounds, which have been provided by previous generations of parents so is a perfectly reasonable and accepted practice.”

Shaun Simpson, the headmaster of Rondebosch Boys’ High in Cape Town, said the budget for the year was set in consultation with parents and with their approval.

He said several factors had to be taken into account, including the real inflation percentage, the dramatic increase in the cost of electricity and water, the increased pupil-teacher ratio and the agreed teacher salary increase.

He said quintile five schools (so-called wealthy schools) received very little financial support from the state and therefore needed to raise funds through fees.

“It is also important to note that many quintile five schools, while geographically situated in relatively affluent areas, serve a community of poor learners and struggle to survive.”

Willie Schoeman, the headmaster of Hoërskool Pietersburg, said his budget for next year made provision for the granting of fee exemptions worth R3.5-million. School fees would increase from R18 500 to R20 257.

Since 2008, Hoërskool Pietersburg has granted fee exemptions to pupils totalling more than R25-million.

Lebogang Montjane, the executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), which has 709 member schools in South Africa, said most independent schools did not receive a government subsidy and were reliant on fees to pay for their operational costs.

“Independent schools must be careful of any increases as, unlike public schools, they do not have catchment areas and parents can simply vote with their feet if they find a more attractively priced independent school in the surrounding area,” Montjane said.

Commenting on the nonrefundable enrolment levy and nonrefundable acceptance fee that some schools were charging, he said parents chose to send their children to independent schools and that the schools had various reasons for charging additional levies and fees.

Schäfer, the Western Cape education MEC, said she had heard of cases in which parents felt intimidated at schools’ budget meetings and voted in favour of a certain percentage increase although they did not agree with it.

“They feel they can’t vote against the others because they are almost labelled and they feel inferior, which is a problem.”

Tim Gordon, the national chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, which has 700 member schools, said they had urged schools to limit their fee increases for next year to the lowest level possible “without significantly affecting the quality of education”.

“I think there’s a very real understanding from school governing bodies that families are struggling. There’s no doubt about it that we now have more single breadwinner families and more out-of-work families.”

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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