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LCQ17: School Textbook Assistance Scheme

    Following is a question by the Hon Tsang Yok-sing and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (October 31):


     It has been reported that although the School Textbook Assistance Scheme administered by the Student Financial Assistance Agency ("SFAA") provides assistance to needy students for covering the costs of essential textbooks and miscellaneous school-related expenses, many families cannot be benefited because of the relatively stringent assessment criteria and lengthy application procedure.  Moreover, SFAA makes assistance payment normally in October after a school year has begun, and the maximum amount of a full grant is only about $2,000, which is insufficient to offset the textbook expenses of around $3,000.  As a result, the assistance cannot meet the urgent needs of the parents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it has plans to review the above assistance scheme (including considering suitably relaxing the assessment standards, increasing the assistance amounts according to the inflation rate, making earlier assistance payment to all eligible applicants, as well as specially expediting the processing of applications from students who were given full grants in the previous year); if it has, of the details of the plans; if not, the reasons for that?


Madam President,

     It is the Government's student finance policy to ensure that no student is deprived of education for lack of means.  The Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) now provides assistance under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme to help needy primary and secondary students to purchase textbooks.  To ensure prudent use of public money and that financial assistance is provided to students with genuine need, applicants must pass a means test.  

     The means test follows the "Adjusted Family Income" mechanism which takes into account the gross annual household income and the household size of the applicants in assessing their eligibility for student finance.  This mechanism also applies to other means-tested student financial assistance schemes.  The income ceilings for full and half grant for textbook assistance for a 4-member family, for instance, are $8,290 and $22,140 respectively.  The ceilings are annually adjusted in accordance with the movement of the Consumer Price Index (A).  There is no asset test for SFAA schemes for primary and secondary students, including the School Textbook Assistance Scheme.  In the 2006/07 school year, some 330,000 students benefited from the Scheme, representing about 40% of the primary and secondary school population.  Assistance disbursed amounted to $465 million.

     We have reviewed the income ceiling for full grant assistance and concluded that the existing mechanism should continue to be adopted.  The Legislative Council Panel on Education was informed of the review results in July 2006.

     As for the grant rate, textbook assistance comprises a textbook grant for purchasing essential textbooks and a flat rate grant to cover miscellaneous school-related expenses. Every year, the Consumer Council conducts sample survey before start of the school year on the actual costs of textbooks to be purchased for various levels of studies in various schools.  In determining the textbook grant rate for different levels of studies, the SFAA applies without modification the Consumer Council's survey results and takes them as the average costs that students need to pay for textbooks. The actual textbook prices in the school year concerned have been duly reflected in the process. Regarding the flat rate grant, it is revised annually according to the movement of the Composite Consumer Price Index as provided by the Census and Statistics Department, which has also taken into account the inflation factor.

     In the 2007/08 school year, a primary student eligible for full grant assistance may receive textbook assistance of about $2,300, and junior secondary students may receive about $2,500.  The rate for S4 to S7 students ranges from about $1,000 to about $2,800 depending on the needs of their study levels.

     Every year, the SFAA and schools have to handle over 300,000 applications for school textbook assistance.  Assistance could only be disbursed in October because of the large number of applications, the need for the SFAA to handle concurrently applications for other financial assistance schemes, and the procedural requirement for schools to confirm applicants' information and study level after start of the new school year.  

     As some families may not be able to pay upfront the expenses for purchase of textbooks for their children before commencement of the school year, the SFAA launched the "Principal's Recommendation Scheme" with effect from the 2006/07 school year to accord priority to processing applications of students recommended by school principals.  Successful applicants are granted the school textbook assistance before start of the new school year for the purchase of textbooks.  In the 2007/08 school year, over 4,000 students received textbook assistance under the scheme before start of the new school year. We believe that this improvement measure has taken care of families with extreme financial hardship.

Ends/Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Issued at HKT 15:12


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