Fee focus a sign of the times

12/01/2017 - 14:50

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SPECIAL REPORT: Several high-profile schools have announced plans for restrained fee changes, including some freezes and reductions, in order to stay competitive after several years of weak economic performance in Western Australia. 

Stephen Webber says Guildford’s plan to extend its secondary education to girls will assist the school’s sustainability and growth.

SPECIAL REPORT: Several high-profile schools have announced plans for restrained fee changes, including some freezes and reductions, in order to stay competitive after several years of weak economic performance in Western Australia.

Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia executive director Valerie Gould said there had been a softening of enrolment waitlists last year, and that schools had tried to keep fee increases to a minimum.

“The economy is certainly having an impact and schools are very aware of … the challenges for parents to be able to afford independent education,” Ms Gould told Business News.

In 2016, St Stephen’s School, the state’s largest independent school as ranked by total enrolments, announced it would be dropping its fees by up to 16 per cent across both primary and secondary years.

According to the BNiQ Search Engine, total enrolments at St Stephen’s dropped from 2,675 in 2015 to 2,447 in 2016.

“It (St Stephen’s) had to make itself accessible to the population that wanted to go there and affordability is an issue all schools look at carefully when setting fees,” Ms Gould said.

“There’s no question we have seen a plateauing of enrolments in the sector.”

Late last year, Trinity College announced in an email to parents that there would be no fee increases for students enrolled in years four to eight, while there would be a tuition fee increase of 3.9 per cent for years nine through 12.

Hale School reportedly said it would cap its fee increases at 3 per cent and Guildford Grammar School cited a fee increase cap of 2 per cent.

Amidst these announcements, Guildford also released a statement of how it would invite girls to join its secondary school in 2018 as part of its plan to gradually become a fully co-educational boarding school.

Headmaster Stephen Webber said the timing of the Guildford statement was unfortunate as it was around the same time as St Stephen’s announced its new fee structure. This led some to assume that enrolment issues at Guildford were the motivating factor for its announcement.

“It wasn’t great timing because it did offer that link, but that was certainly not a deciding factor for us because we’re still at strong enrolment levels,” Mr Webber told Business News.

“There’s no doubt that it (co-education) will assist us into the future in terms of the growth and sustainability of the school, but it was a purpose-based decision rather than an economic driver.”

Mr Webber said ever since girls started at the preparatory school 40 years ago in 1976 there had been suggestions of extending the offering, but it was recent infrastructure development, including new senior school facilities, paired with 18 months of research into co-education that led Guildford to take the next step.

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