Schools belonging to large international groups in jurisdictions including Hong Kong are being bombarded with requests from parents to cut tuition fees after sister schools offered reductions and rebates.

More than 240 parents with children enrolled at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong have demanded a 30% reduction to tuition fees, warning that they would withdraw children from classes if the school did not respond by 15 April, according to the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong-based parents made their case for fee discounts just days after Nord Anglia’s Dubai school offered its parent base a 15% discount in fees for the third term, throughout which lessons will be hosted online due to school closures enforced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A petition filed by Nord Anglia parents in Dubai gained more than 700 signatures.

Parents at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, which according to financial reports lost HK$49.5 million (£5 million) in 2017-18, suggested that the school take a cue from its Dubai counterpart and reduce fees to ease the financial burden on parents whose incomes have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

One parent reportedly told the South China Morning Post that it was “inappropriate” that Nord Anglia’s Hong Kong branch would not offer discounts, even though the firm’s Dubai offshoot had done so.

The common demands of disgruntled parents across the world with children enrolled in schools owned by large international organisations underscore the moral challenge of reducing fees only at select schools, but not all, during a time of crisis. Other global operators of private schools, including GEMS Education, Inspired and Cognita, could face similar demands in the coming weeks from fee-paying parent bodies across dozens of countries.

Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong’s principal, Brian Cooklin, told parents on 14 April that the school had already frozen fees for the 2020-21 academic year and, therefore, could at present offer no further reductions.

“It is not possible to provide a discount on tuition fees without damaging the service being provided,” Cooklin wrote in an email to parents. “This could only be achieved through redundancies of teachers, as staffing is the major expenditure.

“We have introduced pay cuts, a recruitment-and-pay freeze, and reduced other costs for the next session.

“We’ve also frozen fees for the next year. We have received many messages of thanks from parents for taking this step and for how our teachers have navigated this crisis to ensure our students continue to receive high-quality education.”

Cooklin’s response was sent to 248 families representing more than 315 students at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, who since February have been taking online classes because authorities in the territory ordered all schools to close until mid-April.

Parents, many of whom have taken pay cuts amid a turbulent economic climate, say that online lessons are inadequate and do not reflect the school’s fees, which range from HK$75,000 to HK$182,000. They are also seeking further cuts to fees for the September term, should schools remain partially or fully closed.

Nord Anglia has 61 international schools, boarding schools and private schools scattered across nearly 30 countries. The company, which in 2017 was valued at $4.3 billion, is owned by Baring Private Equity Asia and a Canadian pension fund.