A fee hike followed by protests followed by rustication. Four students at Tilak International School, Navi Mumbai were issued leaving certificates earlier this year after their parents protested against the school’s decision to hike its monthly fee from Rs 550 to Rs 750.
Last month, the Bombay high court ruled that the school would have to take these students back. “Even then, the school is refusing to let them attend class and makes them sit in another room,” claimed Vijay Deshmukh, one of the protesting parents. “All this because we opposed the school’s fee hike last year.”
School authorities, however, denied they had hiked fees last year, and said the parents in question had posed a law and order problem. “The court directed the parents to pay the fees. Only after that were we asked to readmit the students for the rest of this academic year, but they have not yet done so,” said JN Kurup, chairperson of the school. “No one has come to the school so far to readmit themselves.”
A Rs 200 hike in monthly fee may seem “too small” for such a fuss, but it’s a only a drop in the sea of parents’ discontent. “If the school increases fees, there should be a corresponding increase in the quality of education. But that is not happening,” said Deshmukh.
The Tilak International School case is the latest in the long and ever-growing list of battles between schools and parents over the contentious issue of fee hikes (see timeline). Steadily climbing monthly school fees have hit middle-class parents, with several protests over the past two years on account of what they see as unjustified hikes. According to an ASSOCHAM report released last month, expenses on private schooling have risen by up to 100% since 2005.
“Expenses have gone up, but incomes have stayed steady,” said Namitabh Kothari, an advocate, and parent of two students at DSRV School in Malad. “The middle class wants to be able to provide a decent level of education for their children, and in the process they are getting hit. We do not have many options.”
It’s making parents think and rethink every decision, including whether or no to have a second child. “I can’t afford to have another child even though I want to have one,” said Feroza Suresh, who has a nine-year-old son. “Educational costs are hurting parents. Many are just having one child. With additional expenses like tuitions and extra-curricular activities, we have to think carefully about everything.”
The Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Bill that was passed in the assembly in August aims to step in and curb profiteering and arbitrary fee hikes. (See box). So far though, it satisfied neither parents nor school managements. Even so, parents are hopeful that once the bill becomes an Act [it is awaiting a signature from the governor and president], it will put them out of their misery once and for all.
“Everyone is waiting and hoping that something good will come through this new bill. Most are scared to come forward to voice their grievances against fee hikes,” said Jayant Jain, president of the non-profit group Forum for Fairness in Education. “It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year though.”
School authorities are likely to challenge the law once it is enacted. Schools are especially aggrieved by a clause in the bill that requires them to have any fee hike approved by the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
“It is an infringement on the rights of schools. Is the school run by the management or by the PTA,” asks SC Kedia, honorary secretary of the Unaided Schools’ Forum. Aided schools, in particular, will be hamstrung by the forthcoming Act, as the government is refusing to pay them their non-salary grants. This has forced their hand, compelling them to raise fees in order to manage their expenses.
“Ideally, we shouldn’t be charging our students any fee, but we have had to do so because we are left with no choice,” said a principal of a Catholic school. Further complications and compunctions, say schools, include having to pay teachers salaries as per the sixth pay commission and now, foot the bill of students who will have to be admitted on the 25% quota that the Right To Education Act mandates.
Interview: Devendra Fadnavis, BJP MLA, was part of the committee of 29 MLAs, which finalised the fee regulation bill
‘Bill not as per whims of school managements’
Before the Act comes into place, schools might have hiked their fees. Does this legislation apply to them?
It is not retrospective, but curative. If a school has hiked its fees astronomically in anticipation of the Act, when the management submits its balance sheet for approval the next year, the committee will find that the expenses are not that high and will act accordingly.
The Bill that was passed was criticised by parents for being a watered down version of the original draft.
That is true. In the field of education, you can't bring in an Act that is draconian. You have to strike a balance between education and the investment of the private sector.
School managements have objected to the requirement of having their fee hikes approved by the Parent-Teacher Associations.
That itself shows that this bill was not made according to the whims and fancies of school managements. It is difficult to address all the aspirations, but you have to have a system.
There has been an Anti-Capitation Fee Act all these years, but very few parents have used it. Parents might be scared to complain against fee hikes even now.
The Anti-Capitation Fee Act could not be implemented in letter and spirit because it was short on rules, which led to a lot of ambiguity. With this bill, we made it a point to ensure that details are mentioned. Even if the rules come out late, the Act can stand on its own.