Paper No. CB(2)97/98-99
Prices of Textbooks
This paper provides a brief account of how Government seeks to avoid textbook prices from causing unnecessary financial burden on parents.
2. Publishers can freely publish textbooks. However, through issuing the Recommended Textbook List (Textbook List) to schools, the Education Department (ED) seeks to monitor the quality of textbooks and help schools select suitable textbooks. If publishers wish to have their textbooks included in the Textbook List, they may submit their textbooks to ED for review. Textbooks submitted for review will be included in the Textbook List if their content and presentation meet the requirements of the subject syllabuses. In the spirit of free market economy, publishers can freely set prices of their textbooks taking into account the market situation and production cost. However, Government takes measures to avoid textbook prices from causing unnecessary financial burden on parents.
3. In this regard, ED adopts a number of measures; these include-
- Reducing the frequency of non-essential textbook revision
Except for textbooks of a few subjects such as Social Studies, Economic and Public Affairs, Economics, and Government and Public Affairs which need more frequent updating, ED will not review textbooks which have been revised within three years from the date of listing in the Textbook List. New edition textbooks not reviewed by ED will not be included in the Textbook List. This would help avoid increase in textbook prices caused by frequent revision.
Where a publisher wishes to make limited amendments to a textbook already in the Textbook List, such as updating information or amending errors, ED will treat the request as "reprint with minor amendments" and will review the proposed amendments only. In these cases, the publisher will not be allowed to change the edition of the textbook so as not to mislead parents. Moreover, the department encourages publishers to produce leaflets of annexes or corrigenda for the revisions made, which can be distributed through schools to students for reference.
- Through regular meetings with the publishers, reminding them not to use unreasonable practice to sell their textbooks
In meetings with textbook publishers, ED frequently-
Issuing guidelines on textbook selection to schools
- reminds publishers not to force students to buy textbooks together with workbooks, i.e. tie-in sales. Publishers are encouraged to prepare leaflets of annexes for textbook revisions, so that students can continue to use old edition textbooks and need only to buy the workbooks.
- calls on booksellers not to set among themselves a standardized discount rate and remind publishers that they should not boycott booksellers selling textbooks at a higher discount.
- requests publishers to set out clearly the textbook prices in promotion leaflets to schools for reference.
- reminds publishers to use light-weighted papers for textbooks, thereby reducing both the production cost of textbooks and the weight of students' school bags.
ED regularly issues guidelines to schools on the selection of textbooks and learning materials. Among other things, the guidelines stipulate that subject textbook selection panels should be set up to select textbooks. The guidelines also recommend some selection criteria including the learning needs and ability of students, the financial burden on parents, consumer rights, and the weight of textbooks. ED also recommends schools not to compel students to purchase new edition textbooks if the previous edition can be used with teachers' assistance (for details, please refer to Annex I
ED also issues guidelines on the procedures of textbook selection and on the acceptance of donations from publishers. The guidelines specifically remind schools that their decisions on textbook selection should not be affected by any donations from publishers (see Annex II
). Moreover, with the assistance of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), ED has prepared guidelines for school staff on the acceptance of advantage and donation (see Annex III
Collaborating with the Consumer Council in monitoring textbook prices
The Consumer Council conducts annual survey on textbook prices. Apart form providing information to the Council, ED also recommends schools to refer to the findings of those surveys. Where necessary, ED will follow up recommendations of the Council.
4. The Student Financial Assistance Agency provides school textbook assistance to students with financial difficulties. There are two levels of assistance, namely full grant and half grant, both of which are reviewed annually taking into account textbook prices for the year. Starting from the 1998/99 school year, apart from Primary 1 to Secondary 3 students who have already been covered by the scheme, Secondary 4 to Secondary 7 students may also apply for textbook assistance.
5. The result of the survey on textbook prices announced by the Consumer Council recently shows that the average increase in textbook prices is higher than the increase in Consumer Price Index for the year. There are also reports that publishers donate teaching equipment and other items to schools with a view that their textbooks will be selected for use by those schools. These have led to wide concern. ED is taking the following actions -
- Liaise with ICAC with a view to studying further how to prevent schools (or individuals) from accepting advantages during the textbook selection process.
- Write to the Council on Professional Conduct in Education to request it to study whether relevant individuals have breached the Code of Conduct if as alleged by the media, publishers' donation to schools have led to increase in textbook prices.
- Request the Consumer Council, in the interest of consumers, to hold joint liaison meetings with publishers to discuss issues such as market operation, sale practice and consumer rights, with a view to working out improvement proposals.
6. Subject to the findings of the aforesaid studies, ED will take appropriate follow up actions, including updating/strengthening the guidelines on textbook selection. Moreover, ED will monitor closely whether publishers observe the requirements regarding textbook revision. The department will also work closely with the Consumer Council to monitor whether textbook prices are reasonable.