For those of you with children at international schools in Bangkok, you may not have considered in depth the unique fee structure of international schools here until you are considering a change. The flurry of information and decision making required when you come on your “look see” familiarity trip including signing up for a school, apartment hunting, mobile phone and banking services can be truly mind boggling. It was only when we began thinking our family will probably be in Bangkok longer then 2 years, that we looked again at the schools and what we wanted for our two girls, which raised the unique fee structure.
almost all schools in Thailand have three elements to their fee structure.
When you are admitted to a school, there is an upfront substantial one-time non-refundable fee called a ‘registration’ or ‘enrolment’ fee, an annual ‘capital development fee’ and then term based tuition fees. Of course, meal fees and school bus fees are added on as needed. I believe that this format is unique to Thailand. Our family arrived from Shanghai where school fees were simple – per semester tuition fees only. I also checked Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong, all very competitive international school markets, none have this multi-level structure that requires the upfront payment, which can be up to 40% of the first year’s tuition.
Depending on the school, the ‘registration’ or ‘enrolment’ fee ranges from 95,000B to 265,000B – that is typically per student. For many families, once the fee is paid as part of their relocation package upon entry into a school, they may never think of it again. They stay with the same school for the duration of their time in Bangkok. However, sometimes things change during your time in Bangkok. Families may want to live in a different area, reduce the time spent commuting to school or work or perhaps their children are getting older and have different needs that the current school is not providing. Whatever the reason is, the changing of schools is not an easy or cheap endeavor in Bangkok.
For our family, we arrived mid school year in January and were unable to get our two daughters in the school that best suited our needs from a location, school facilities and curriculum standpoint. It was only in the process of changing school because our second-choice school wasn’t delivering the results and opportunities we were looking for after two years, that the unfavorable fee structure of Bangkok’s international school became apparent. To change schools for our two kids, we’d have to pay upfront 180,000B up to 530,000B to the new school. Given the uniqueness of Thailand’s international school fee structure, it makes me wonder why it was implemented this way. In corporate America, we’d employ this type of structure to create a ‘barrier to exit’, making it more advantageous for customers to continue service then to change.
If all providers have the same structure, it would work to the advantage of all – keeping customers in place. Maintaining customers would be based not on the quality of service provided, but the cost of changing.
Another reason why the fee structures may have been set up this way was to take advantage of the deep pockets of corporates and embassies that typically pay the school fees for their employees they bring in as expats. Given the frequent in and out on two to three-year contracts, it is the businesses and embassies that keep paying this upfront fee as new families arrive. However, corporate packages are changing for many. International workers may no longer be able to afford international schools, which will drastically impact the “international” environment of the schools.
“Schools should charge a tuition that is equitable for the services provided.”
It is my hope that as Bangkok attracts more international schools and current schools expand their capacity; schools will reevaluate their fee structure to align the costs with services delivered. The idea of paying an additional 40% in the first year of service because you are new, yet there is no incremental direct cost associated with new customers does not seem equitable. I cannot think of any other service based industry that levies such a high premium to new customers.
Schools should charge a tuition that is equitable for the services provided and remove barriers that hinder their customers from making changes when their needs are not being met. The inclusion of an upfront registration or enrollment fee is clearly aimed at corporates and embassies that will pay this fee every 2-3 years as employees change as compared to locals who will pay it once per student. These fees are too high to simply be the cost of being a “farang” in Thailand.
Below is a table of current “enrollment” or “registration” fees as compared to the yearly tuition at the school. Since tuition can vary from year to year, I took the cost at the Year 4 or Grade 3 level for comparison purposes.