Need of long term solution

  • Private operators and government authority together need to resolve the contentious issue of fee determination

Mar 30, 2018-

Every year, with private schools flouting the government’s ceiling, the admission season sees an uprising in dispute over school fees. Student unions hold demonstrations to bring attention to this issue, which eventually culminate in theMinistry of Education forming a monitoring panel under the leadership of the joint-secretary. The panel then monitors the schools on the radar, and often discovers that schools are  charging an exorbitant fee which is many times higher than the fee ceiling  placed by the government. The panel, however, neither makes public report nor are any schools booked for breaching the government’s directives. 

As a result, the trend can be seen rising every year. A rapid assessment carried out by the National Campaign for Education, an umbrella body of over four dozens of organisations working in the education sector, found that the ‘big schools’ across the Valley are charging at least five times higher than the government ceiling. The highest monthly fee one school can charge stands at around Rs 4,000, but schools have been found to be  charging around Rs 20,000 on  an average. 

Among the 36,000 schools across the nation, at least 6,000 fall under the private sector—either affiliated to Private and Boarding Schools Organisation Nepal (PABSON) or the National Private and Boarding Schools Association(NPABSON) .  

The Institutional Schools Fee Fixation Standard Directive-2015, which was formulated by the Department of Education, along with the representation from the umbrella bodies of the private and boarding schools set the criteria for fixing the school  fee. The directive  suggested that private schools can charge admission fee that is no more than what is equal to  one month of tuition fee. However, a majority of the schools survyed for  the study have  been found to blatantly disregard the directive. 

Lead researcher of the aforesaid study, Laxman Sharma said that in order to justify the excessive fees, the schools charge the nominal as ‘tuition fee’, then impose the extra cost under overhead such as integrated teaching and learning, and co-curricular activities. 

The private schools  have also  been violating the verdict of Supreme Court given in 2013. A division bench of Justices Tahir Ali Ansari and Baidya Nath Upadhaya had directed schools to not hike their tuition fees every year and had asked the Prime Minister’s Office, the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Education to effectively monitor compliance. The court directed the schools to only hike their fees once every three years.

Giving a final verdict on a writ petition filed by three advocates—Shree Krishna Subedi, Kapil Pokharel and Rabin Subedi—arguing that the majority of private schools were defying the Supreme Court direction and charging exorbitant fees, the SC had further marked a ceiling for admission forms and advertising budgets. 

However, the verdict remains largely unaddressed. Baburam Humagain, general secretary of Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights, claims that the vicious nexus between the political parties, bureaucracy, teachers association and the operators of the private school is the main reason behind private schools’ anarchism. 

“They are all backing each other up,” he claimed. Furthermore, dozens of leaders from  major political parties have direct or indirect investment in the schools. Over 40 members of second Constituent Assembly own private schools or colleges, and have lobbied  for deregulating  government’s control over  private schools. Though the number has decreased in current federal parliament, over two dozen of members still own private schools or colleges. 

To make things worse, there have been instances where schools don’t allow the monitoring team in their schools and deny giving the data on the fee they charge their students.

The mid-term review of fiscal year 2017/18 by Ministry of Finance shows that while the private schools continue to charge exorbitant fee, they are not found paying the taxes accordingly. “The schools dodging the taxes must be penned into the books,” according to  the review, and   the government has set a target to raise Rs 990.15 million in tax from the private schools.

The operators of private schools, however, claim that there shouldn’t be a  blanket approach for fixing the tuition fee discrepancy. They argue that they have been raising the fee with the parents’ approval. They argue  that every approach is taken with parents’ full trust as their sustainability depends upon the parents’ faith.  “The fee should be determined based on the teaching-learning approach and activities a particular school provides,” said Madhu Lohani secretary of PABSON. “Providing better education costs higher, hence, it can vary from school to school.”

With school education under the realm of local governments now, the schools have the liberty to determine the fee as the jurisdiction demands. The local government can endorse regulations that set the fee structures based on teachers’ salary, operation costs, and expenditure on equipment,among others. Private schools must set forth their fee to the respective local government three-months ahead of the academic session and the education committee can make changes to the proposed fee structure after  following an evaluation. However, with barely two weeks left for the new academic session, which starts on April 16, the private schools have no signs to  abide by the rule.

Rajaram Pudasaini, spokesperson of Kageswori Mahahara Municipality, says their attempts to fix the fees couldn’t transpire due to lack of cooperation from the private schools. “They (private schools) delayed the process by five days just to decide the fees for grade one. How many more days should we expect to waste in order to determine the fees in this pace?” he said.  According to Pudasaini, a study by the Municipality shows the per capita annual cost for the students in public schools is Rs 17,000 while it is Rs 38,000 for the private schools in the municipality.  The Council of the Municipality is preparing to fix the fee based on the finding of the research. 

Published: 30-03-2018 07:52

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