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The MRP Of Education

Gujarat’s Regulation of Fees Bill has created a stir among private players, but most state efforts to cap the cost of education, have remained effete as measures

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As they say - everything has a price. If you happen to be a parent and ‘quality education’ is at the other end of the counter — this aphorism will turn particularly nuanced.

Recently, the Gujarat government rolled out the Gujarat Self-Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act 2017, to regulate fees charged by private schools. The law not only caught the attention of private education players, but also Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.

Uttar Pradesh tried to bring about a similar legislation for the state’s private schools, but the Bill did not take shape. Other states too, have brought about rules and regulations to rein in the cost of education, by putting a cap on the school fees demanded by private schools. Most such measures, though, have floundered at the implementation stage. The flip-flop over bringing about legislation to cap school fees and the implementation of such measures, have had just one casualty — young minds.

Cost of Education
So, who and what determines the maximum retail price of your child’s education? P. K. Das, Secretary of Haryana’s School Education says, “Fees can be determined using two methods. First, are market forces such as land, services, infrastructure, quality of teachers, etc. The second way is micro regulation, or capping of fees.”

Haryana was among the first states in India to frame rules to regulate school fees, under the Haryana School Education Act 1995. Das says, “Every private school in Haryana has to submit the fee structure for the upcoming academic year to the Fee and Fund Regulatory Committee by December 31 every year. The schools cannot charge any capitation fees and can only go for a quarterly recovery of fees,” he says, adding, “We do not put a cap on the fee. Schools are expected to submit the fee structure to us every year.”

According to the Tamil Nadu Schools Regulation of the Collection of Fee Rules 2009, “Locality of the school, namely, rural area, town panchayat, municipality, district headquarters, corporation, strength of the students, classes of study and status of the school determine the fee.” While Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Maharashtra went with the first method, Gujarat has adopted the second.

The Gujarat Self-Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act 2017 has paved the way for a micro-regulatory method to cut off annual fees to Rs 15,000 in pre-primary and primary schools, Rs 25,000 for the general stream and Rs 27,000 for science in Secondary and Higher Secondary Schools. According to recent media reports, schools in Gujarat that fail to abide by the law, will have to pay Rs 5 lakh as fine for the pre-primary level, Rs 10 lakh for primary schools and Rs 15 lakh for secondary schools.

Bone of Contention
“Punjab Fee Regulatory Bill 2017,” says Robin Aggarwal, Director of Learning, Paths School, “has been passed off as a sheer populist measure by a government within the last few days, without consultation with the stakeholders. The fee cap of eight per cent is arbitrary and has been arrived at without any basis. The fee Bill is also against all judgments of the court, which protect the right of the institution to fix its fee structure.”

“Obviously,” he goes on to say, “the state has a right to check profiteering and capitation fee to protect the interests of parents, but this Bill goes much further and prescribes a rigid fee structure for the schools. We are filing a writ at the high court contesting the Act in the next seven days.”

Private schools in Gurgaon have hiked their fee two-and-a-half-times this year. Although schools promised to return fees to the parents, actions are still awaited. With the new academic year came massive protests by parents in Gurgaon in the hope of getting a fee relief similar to that of Punjab.

Das says, “General capping of fees is not a great idea. Pedestrian to high-end schools being bound by a uniform regulation, might bore private investors and prevent them from entering the school education segment. Viability must be provided by the laws to increase entrepreneurial initiatives in the school sector.”

“The Maharashtra Act has clear mandates compared to other Acts,” says Francis Joseph, Co-founder, The School Leaders’ Network. “It states that the school can increase up to 15 per cent of fees in two years that chalks out a decent 7.5 per cent every year. If a school requires to raise its fee beyond a specified percentage, it must appeal to the Parent Teacher Association.

Recently, however, this law was violated by an international school that increased its fee by 250 per cent. When parents began to protest, the Education Minister complicated the situation by commenting that the state government was “not responsible for schools affiliated with the CBSE or the ICSE since they come under the HRD Ministry.”

The Maharashtra Mess
Garodia International Centre for Learning, in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area, is an erstwhile ICSE school that converted to the IGCSE curriculum. “Since 2004, the school gradually started converting libraries and laboratories to classrooms. Till recently, it was a building with only classrooms and a small staff-room, with children sitting on its rooftops. The school had a plot nearby. The owners told us of the new school building that was being constructed on the land,” says Biju Nambiar, Vice Chairperson of PTA, Garodia International Centre of Learning and the mother of a Grade 10 child.

“The parents kept paying the normal 15 per cent hiked fee, in the hope that their children would be moving to better facilities. When the building was ready, the owner retracted his statement and said that it was an entirely new school and so, it would hike the school fees by 262 per cent. Parents who had paid Rs 1.5 lakh for a child in Class One, would now have to pay Rs 5.75 lakh. This was insane,” says Nambiar.

She says the school owner ignored complaints and evaded discussions, prompting parents to protest. Eventually, the American principal of the original school and a supporter of the PTA, was asked to leave. The best teachers of the original school were shifted to the new building. “We too started investigation at our own level,” says Nambiar, “We found out that the school does not have any U-DISE code, NOC was not renewed since 2006 and the website did not mention a new school.”

When the protest intensified and matters went out of hand, the parents contacted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), compelling Maharashtra Education Minister, Vinod Tawde and the Director of the Education Department, to call for a hearing. “Strangely, the owner of the school did not show up,” says Nambiar, “He sent his secondary school coordinator.”

“It is practically impossible for parents to take up such protests. We are doing it because we have no choice. According to the Bill, the school is supposed to show us the annual audit statement, which they never did. Although an order was issued, no action has been taken since. It seems like a bigger unified consortium of international schools against parents,” says she.

“Regulation of fee Bills, Acts, are simply a distraction from the core issue,” says Anshul Pathak, Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the Delhi Public School Ghaziabad Society (DPSGS) and Co-founder of TeacherSITY. “The main issue should be non-performance of government schools. Moreover, if the government wants to clean up malpractices, it should increase the supply of private schools and the market will auto adjust,” says he.

“Delhi, for example, has not seen a single new private school in the last 12 years. Taking away choices from the consumer, capping fees can never be a permanent solution since all of them can be contested in court,” Pathak says, adding, “Eventually when the teacher, parents and school drag their fights onto the street, one cannot complain about the ruptured value of this generation.”

Bills are drafted and done with. Sometimes they are implemented. Sometimes they are contested. In the tussle of fees, laws, Bills, courts, protests — the casualty is the child’s education and the joy of learning.

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education Yogi Adityanath DPSGS magazine 27 may 2017