Runaway fees punch hole in the pocket

As yet another academic year dawns, parents are emptying their bank accounts to pay lakhs of rupees in admission fees even for LKG in some institutions. While they remain at the mercy of private schools, government has still not notified the rules it drew up in 2016 to regulate the fee structure in private institutions. What will it take to wake up the government from its slumber and rein in the schools in the interest of children, asks Ralph Alex Arakal

With yet another academic year about to begin, parents are finding it harder than usual to find the best schools for their wards as many institutions have steeply increased their fee, which most are finding  hard to pay. 

Going by the Karnataka School Parents’ Association (KSPA), a group of parents, who want their voices heard, most of the ‘influential’ private schools have hiked their annual fee by an exorbitant 120 per cent over the last few years, when the allowed annual increase is only 10 per cent. Even more alarming, a recent social media post revealed a private school in the city wanted over `2 lakh  for admission to its LKG section. But hardly surprised, Mr Ravi Nair, an advertising professional, who migrated to the city a couple of months back, says going by his personal experience of looking for admission for his two sons here,  at least 10  ‘prestigious institutions’ charge  in lakhs too for admission to the lower classes. 

“When I was looking for admission for  my two sons in grades 1 and  4 , a school in JP Nagar quoted `2.75 lakh for each of them. When I mentioned that I was looking for admission for two students, the manager said he could adjust the fee to `5 lakh. Such negotiations and offers clearly show that these institutions run as businesses,” he says, recalling that another school in Koramangala suggested he could pay the fee in three instalments over the year  subject to any “reasonable”  hike  in the course of it. 

“Yes, infrastructure and holistic development of the child is what we look for, but the former school had no playground and the latter takes students to a public ground for PT as it lacks one of its own,” Mr Nair recounts with disgust.

While parents at the mercy of private schools have to cough up whatever they demand,  the government has done little to put a cap on the  fee they charge .

While only a 10 per cent fee hike is allowed on paper, such rules are never properly implemented, laments Mr A.B. Suresh of KSPA.  “When the hike is allowed only for the tuition fee, most schools constantly increase the fee across the border  be it for maintenance, IT infrastructure, uniforms, books and even stationery,” he regrets. 

 And should students find it difficult to pay the steep fee demanded, they pay the price in various ways.  For instance, on Monday, four students of classes 4,5,7 and 9 of a private school in JP Nagar were not allowed to take their final exams because they had  not paid the fee for the coming academic year. It was only when alert media persons began to arrive at the school that the  management relented and arranged for the students to write their exam on Tuesday.

Mr Suresh believes that only proper regulation by the government can stop this legalised loot. “Why is the entire process of officially notifying the schools on the fee hike slabs been delayed although the minister had promised to do it by January?” he demands frustratedly. 

Govt delaying new rules to help some schools: Activists
Much to the dismay of parents looking for affordable education for their children,  the government, which has drafted a new fee structure for private schools under  the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Regulation of Certain Fees and Donation) Rules, 2016, it has not notified them as yet.

Although Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Tanveer Sait had promised the rules would be notified by  November 2017 and then later, January 2018, they are still  to be enforced.

General secretary of the Karnataka Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools (KAMS), D. Shashikumar, claims the delay in notifying the rules  is deliberate to allow some schools to continue  their exorbitant fee collection. “KAMS filed suggestions and objections to these rules way back in 2016 , but we are still waiting for the official notification,” he regrets, adding that 95 per cent of the private schools will have to  fall in line once the regulations come into force.

But denying any deliberate delay, an official of the education department says the government is only making sure the rules are error-free and do justice to all stakeholders. “When something of this importance is involved, the rules cannot lead to more confusion,” he argues, adding that bringing CBSE and ICSE schools under the new regulations is proving tedious.  

Earlier, in December 2017,  Minister Sait had said he had received several complaints about private schools charging an exorbitant fee and the department had directed all institutions  to make their fee structure public. He had also promised to refund any excess fee collected during admissions or at the start of the academic year to the parents.

Ask the education department official about the Minister’s promises  and he says, “If we get any formal complaint with evidence on about  excess fee collected, we will take action. That is our responsibility.”

‘Government should regulate school fee, plug loopholes’
The government’s move to regulate the fee structure of private schools is very welcome. Providing a differentiated formula based on the location of a school seems to be fair. Considering the rising teaching and non-teaching expenses, the proposed formula makes running a school  a viable proposition.

But the delay has had some repercussions. Some private schools have increased their fee alarmingly this year, probably aware that the proposed rule will in future curtail a possible hike. So it's necessary to immediately to enforce the regulation after consultation with  private schools owners.  Parents now have a variety of choices and need to educate themselves on  the kind of school they are enrolling their child into. Based on the infrastructure, location and quality of teaching resources that the schools have to offer their fee structures will differ. The choice is upto the parents finally.

For some of the more "popular" schools, the demand and supply is so high that it allows them to increase their fee structure without blinking an eyelid. The Parent-Teacher Associations must be put to better use and facilitate a dialogue between the parents, the government and the schools. While we wait for the government to implement its new rule, both parents and institutions need to go in for some self- regulation of their own . 
PREETHI VICKRAM, Education Expert

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