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LCQ5: Textbook price

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Ho Chun-yan and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):


     To address the issue of high prices of textbooks, the Education Bureau ("EDB") has requested publishers to debundle textbooks from learning and teaching materials for pricing.  Moreover, the Secretary for Education stated at the end of May this year that if publishers still refused to debundle teaching materials for pricing after one year, EDB would then tender out the publication of textbooks and teaching materials, or it would commission universities to develop and publish teaching materials.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) how the authorities ensure that an independent and impartial committee with credibility will be set up for vetting, approving and funding publishers, universities or educational institutes to publish a wide variety of textbooks and necessary teaching materials for schools to choose from, so as to lower the costs and alleviate the burden on parents; how the authorities guarantee that the condition of "the lowest bidder wins" will not be the only selection principle in the tendering process, with a view to preventing tenderers from "providing inferior products at lower prices", and ensuring that the quality of textbooks and relevant teaching materials will not be affected;

(b) whether the authorities will consider assessing textbooks according to the principles of environmental protection and recycling so as to avoid frequent issue of new textbook editions; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given that the purchase of textbooks is a major item of daily expenses for the grassroots, whether the authorities will consider afresh increasing the grant rates under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme, so as to alleviate the financial burden on parents?


Acting President,

     My reply to Hon Albert Ho's question is as follows:

(a) As the distortion of the textbook market is becoming more serious, the Education Bureau (EDB) has set up a task force to examine and review the issues arising from the policy of debundling textbooks and teaching/learning materials for pricing, in particular the operation of the Recommended Textbook List (RTL), as well as other measures concerning the supply of teaching and learning resources with a view to ensuring the provision of quality and value-for-money resources for schools.
     Members of the task force comprise principals, teachers, parents and a representative of the Consumer Council, as well as academics and businessmen with professional knowledge in education and market operation.  They will provide their professional views and recommendations on, among related issues, the appropriate tender procedures for the publication of textbooks and learning/teaching materials so as to enhance competition, assure the quality and reasonableness in pricing of textbooks and learning/teaching materials, as well as ways to select the best and most competitive tender.  

(b) The EDB changed its "three-year rule of no revision" for textbooks to "five-year rule of no revision" in the 2010/11 school year.  According to the new rule, revision of a textbook on the RTL is not allowed within five years from the date of inclusion in the RTL.  The EDB, in its "Guidelines for Printing of Textbooks", requires publishers to employ appropriate printing methods.  For example, light-weight, thin, durable and matt paper should be used; text should be printed in single colour as far as possible; and the cover should be protected by gloss lamination for durability.  In addition, under the current textbook review mechanism, the criteria that a textbook should meet include a reasonable and consistent layout, proper line spacing and margins, and minimal paper wastage.

(c) Currently, the Government provides assistance to needy students attending Primary 1 to Secondary 7 in government, aided, caput or local schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme through the School Textbook Assistance Scheme (STAS) to alleviate parents' financial burden arising from the purchase of textbooks.  The Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) will adjust the grant rates annually for different levels of studies according to the results of the textbook expenditure survey conducted by the Consumer Council before the start of the school year on the actual costs of textbooks for various levels of studies as required by schools.  The textbook grant rates will duly reflect the average actual expenditure on textbooks in the new school year for different level of studies.  To put it simply, families with an average monthly income at or below the median monthly household income are eligible for assistance.
     Starting from the 2011/12 school year, to enhance financial support for needy students, the Government will relax the income threshold for full grant under the means test mechanism of the SFAA.  Upon implementation of the proposed relaxation, the number of students eligible for full grant rates under the STAS will increase from about 80 000 at present to around 150 000, and the percentage in all beneficiaries under the STAS will substantially increase from around 30% at present to over 50%.  Students who pass the means test but are not eligible for full assistance may still receive grant rates at half level under the STAS.

     The above measure has been approved by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council.  We believe that they can help alleviate to a large extent the financial burden on low-income families in meeting the schooling expenses of their children.

Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:16


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