In 2012, a private unaided school attached to CBSE board was newly opened in an area in Bengaluru where most of the IT employees live. Since the school was new, its tuition fee was comparatively nominal. Its annual fee was Rs 45,000 per student. In a parent’s words, three factors were attractive:  the board affiliation of the school(CBSE, ICSE), school infrastructure/quality of education and more importantly, the affordability.

For a parent, four years ago a tuition fee of Rs 45,000 seemed affordable, but little did he know that the school fee would almost double in the years to come. This academic year (2016-17) the same school has imposed an annual tuition fee of Rs 82,000, which is almost double the amount of what it used to charge four years ago. This has come as a shocker to the parents who have found it difficult to digest the erratic variation in fee structure.

If this is one such case, there are several such instances of irregular fee hike by unaided private schools in the city in the last few years. The tuition fee at a famous school in Marathahalli in 2012-13 was Rs 48,000. The fee saw a steep hike over the last four years and current academic year the school fee has touched Rs 87,800. There has been almost a difference of Rs 9,000 in the school fee in the year 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Yet another school on Varthur main road used to charge a tuition fee of Rs 54,000 in 2013-14. The amount sharply increased the amount to Rs 84,000 last year and this academic year it has been further hiked to Rs 1,04,000!

Parents protesting in front of a school that hiked the fees. Pic courtesy:KASPA

Such has been the scenario of irregular hike in school fee structure in the unaided private schools in Bengaluru. Unhappy over the fee structure in a private school in Whitefield, a group of parents staged a silent protest in the school premises in mid-April. As the school refused to budge to the demands of parents, they even met the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Kimmane Rathnakar and submitted him a memorandum.

The parents accused the school of arbitrarily hiking the tuition and transportation fee and how the school management was involved in the business of commercialisation of education. The main demand of the parents was that the fee hike be rolled back. The parents say that the minister had assured them of ordering for an investigation into the school fee issue in that particular school.

The Delhi case

Such protests are not new. Similar protests were being staged in Delhi too. Parents in Delhi had protested the steep fee hike in Delhi Public School, after which the Delhi government ordered the school to roll back the hiked fee and refund the amount to the parents for the current academic year.

However, in Karnataka, the minister has not yet acted upon the parents’ demands. The inaction of the government has led the parents of Bengaluru to do something bigger and better, by formally coming together A month ago, a parent Selvaraj Mariyappan created a Facebook group for the aggrieved parents of Karnataka. The group became an instant hit and a large number of people joined the group to share the issues pertaining to schools in which their wards study.

Today, the group - Karnataka Schools Parents Association (KASPA) - has over 5,000 members from across the State. And within a month, the group has been registered as a formal organisation under the Societies Registration Act.

The parents led by KASPA have decided to stage a massive protest against the fee hike in the second week of June, at ITPL. “We are unhappy over how the schools are manipulating parents by hiking fee every year. The CBSE and ICSE bye-laws clearly state that the school management should consult the parents through parents representatives before revising the fee. But we are not convinced about the selection process of Parents Teachers Association. Often the parents are not aware of the selection process and are never informed about it,” says KASPA Vice-president Selvaraj.

Here are some of the issues that the KASPA has raised:

  • Schools are hiking the annual fee by 10-22 %
  • Transport fee is hiked annually from 15 to 40 %
  • 80-100 % increase in tuition fee over a span of 5 years.
  • 200 % increase in transportation fee in 5 years.
  • Schools charging a non-refundable admission fee of Rs 50,000.
  • Schools force the parents to purchase books, uniform and other stationary items from vendors nominated by the schools for an exorbitant price.
  • Increase in number of students admitted to schools, while the infrastructure is poor.

Demands of KASPA

  • Keep the hike very minimum. The school management should be in a position to justify the hike.
  • Ensure that the parents are consulted before revising the fee and, management and parents should arrive at a consensus.
  • Roll back the hike in transportation fee. The fuel price has gone down in last one year, then why the hike?
  • Allow the parents purchase books and stationery items from the vendor of their choice.
  • Improve the quality of government schools. It’s because of the low quality of government schools that the parents are forced to send their wards to private schools.
  • Establish more Kendriya Vidyalayas.

No ceiling on school fee

The issue of excess school fee is due to the absence of a cap on the fee structure in Karnataka. The Karnataka Educational Institutions Act 1984 has not fixed a fee ceiling for unaided private schools. The Act says the maximum tuition fee in respect of private unaided educational institutions should be fixed taking into consideration the salary expenditure on teaching and non-teaching staff, plus 30 per cent of the salary expenditure towards contingency and maintenance costs divided by total number of students.

It also imposes a few clauses such as the staff’s salary expenditure should include management’s contribution towards provident fund, encashment benefit, LTC/HTC, medical, conveyance allowance.

But the question is, do the schools actually consider the above factors while calculating the school fee? What the decades old Education Act lacks is a ceiling on the fee charged by unaided private schools.

In a case of Sarvodaya School Students v/s the State government (WP 18809), the Karnataka High Court ordered the State and Central governments to work out the fee that has to be paid by each child between the age group of 6 to 14 years. The order was issued in February 2013. Following the High Court order, the Department of Public Instructions issued a draft notification for fixing the fee for private unaided primary schools. The draft made the fee calculation after considering the school expenses. The draft was made public in September 2014 and it reportedly received over 7,000 objections and suggestions from public.

But since then, it has been shelved. The Department of Public Instructions is yet to finalise the draft. Even after three years, the court case too is moving in a snail’s pace, and the issue is yet to reach the logical end.

When Citizen Matters spoke to the Director of Primary Education K Anand, he said the draft is yet to be approved in the secretariat level. “After going through the objections and suggestions, we redrafted the school fee policy. Recently a meeting was held to discuss the new draft. But it has not been finalised. Yet another secretariat level meeting is expected to be held soon, in which the decision on finalising the draft will be taken,” he said.

Even after finalising it in the department level, it has to cross several hurdles. The final draft should get the cabinet approval before it takes shape of the policy.

Fighting it out the legal way

The worried parents believe, the legal fight is the only way forward. While one set of parents are already fighting it out in the court (in Sarvodaya School case), now the newly formed KASPA too has decided to move to the court. “We have discussed with a law firm which has assured us of legal help. We will file a PIL in the High Court against the school fee issue, soon,” Selvaraj said.

Ashok Kumar Adiga, President of Bangalore School Parents’ Association who is also one of the petitioners in the Sarvodaya School case says, due to the slow movement of the case in the High Court, the Association has now decided to file a fresh PIL before the Chief Justice bench.

“Till now we were fighting for our children who were studying in Sarvodaya School. It has been four years and yet nothing much has happened. Therefore we have decided to file a new PIL in the HC demanding for the implementation of High Power Committee’s recommendations on regulating admission in private educational institutions in Karnataka,” Adiga told Citizen Matters.

In 2008, when G Kumar Naik was the Commissioner of Department of Public Instructions, the government formed a high power committee to make recommendations for a policy for admission to pre-primary to pre-university private educational institutions. The Committee submitted a brief report comprising factors such as pre-admission procedure, details of application for registration, time schedule for admission, criteria for admission process, capitation fee and defining the aspects of equality and justice.

Ashok Adiga believes it’s time now to revisit the educational policy and bring in an overall change in the functioning of private educational institutions. “I have had conversations with the KASPA members too and we will fight it out together,” he said.

Also read: Part II - A story that explores the issues the schools are facing, and the way forward.