School Textbook Assistance
At the meeting of the Finance Committee on 28 November 1997, Members expressed concern over whether textbook and stationery grant was provided to students in private schools, in particular to students in private schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS). Members were also of the view that to provide timely assistance, such grant should be payable prior to the commencement of a school year.
2.The School Textbook Assistance Scheme (STAS) was first introduced in 1968 to Government and aided primary schools. The aim of the Scheme is to provide assistance to eligible students for the purchase of necessary textbooks and stationery1. Following the extension of universal and free education from six to nine years, the Scheme was extended in 1982 to cover needy junior secondary (Secondary 1 to 3) students of all public sector schools (including Government, aided, Caput and Bought Place schools).
3.As from the 1998-99 school year, the STAS will be extended to benefit needy senior secondary students (Secondary 4 to 7 ) in public sector schools. The proposal was approved by the Finance Committee at its meeting on 28 November 1997.
Students in Schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme and other Private Schools
4.Apart from students in private schools occupying bought places, students of other private schools, including schools participating in the DSS, are not covered by the STAS. However, there is a component for textbook and stationery grant in the subsidy DSS schools receive from the Government. The basis of calculation is the Government's average expenditure on textbook assistance for Secondary 1 to 3 students of aided grammar schools in that school year. DSS schools may provide textbook assistance to their needy students with the subsidy.
5.The Chief Executive announced in his 1997 Policy Address that the Government will review the policy on private schools. The scope of the review includes the DSS. The review on the DSS will also cover:
- the methodology for determining the textbook and stationery grant to DSS schools; and
- whether the grant should be disbursed through the SFAA direct to needy students.
Timetable for Disbursement of Textbook and Stationery Grant under STAS
6.At present, the procedure for disbursement of the textbook and stationery grant is as follows:
Simplifying Application and Processing Procedures
- in mid-August, schools are issued with application forms for distribution to students at the start of a school year in September;
- students return the completed application forms together with necessary documentary evidence in support of their applications, such as income proof, family size, parent's bank account number, to schools in mid-September;
- schools check all applications, ensure that the documentary support is in order and submit by mid-October eligible applications to SFAA; and
- SFAA examines the applications and inputs the data into the computer system for validation. As there are currently over 160 000 applications for textbook and stationery grant, the processing takes 6 to 7 weeks. After validating all applications, SFAA will disburse the grant direct to the applicants in early December.
7.SFAA has taken the following steps to simplify the application and processing procedures for all grants and fee remission:
- students now use a combined application form for textbook and stationery grant, student travel subsidy, and fee remission. As all applicants for the three types of assistance have to go through the same means test mechanism, the use of the combined application form facilitates the processing of those applications for more than one type of assistance; and
- the SFAA is developing a new computer system to more effectively assess the appropriate level of assistance to students. The system will relieve the schools of the task of calculating the points under the means test for determining a student's eligibility for assistance.
The above arrangements will alleviate the administrative work performed by school teachers and expedite the processing of applications for assistance. The SFAA expects that arising from the extension of the textbook and stationery grant to senior secondary students and the introduction of a new travel subsidy for primary pupils in the 1998/99 school year, the additional applications to be processed will amount to 100,600 and 18,500 respectively. In view of the measures mentioned in (a) and (b) above, this additional workload will be absorbed by the SFAA without upsetting the current timetable for the disbursement of assistance.
Disbursement of Textbook and Stationery Grant Before Commencement of a School Year
8.Members have expressed concern that the application, processing and disbursement of the textbook and stationery grant are carried out after the commencement of a school year. As such, parents have to bear the necessary expenses first, thus causing hardship to really needy families. Members therefore suggested that the processing and disbursement of the grant to families of eligible students should be effected before the end of the previous school year. We are of the view that there would be practical difficulties in implementing such an suggestion:
Assistance to Really Needy Pupils
- to disburse the grant before the start of a school year, schools would be required to receive and process the applications in April/May. These are the busiest months for schools as they have to prepare for examinations and end of term activities. Schools would therefore encounter administrative difficulties in handling the applications during that period; and
- on receipt of the application forms, schools are required to authenticate that the applicants are students of the school and confirm their classes. In many cases, this can only be done at the start of a school year. This is particularly pertinent in the case of students whose promotion to their next higher class depends on central allocation and public examinations, namely students of Primary 6, Secondary 3 and Secondary 5 being promoted to Secondary 1, 4 and 6.
9.In general, students and parents have raised no objections to the present arrangement. Nor have we received complaints in recent years from parents on the timing of disbursements. Most of the more financially needy students are from families receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. These families normally receive the necessary funds for purchasing textbooks and stationery before the commencement of a school year. We therefore have no plans at the moment to revise the existing arrangement for receiving applications and disbursing the textbook and stationery grant. However, we will keep the arrangement under regular review.
Student Financial Assistance Agency