There are about 7,500 private schools in our country. The Societies Act 1861, under which private schools are registered, mandates that these schools have to be run on a no-profit basis. However, in blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the Act, such schools are intent upon making huge profits and indulge in widespread exploitation and extortion from parents of their wards. They charge exorbitantly raising their fees as and when they feel like it.
Private schools or elite schools (some even call them 5 star schools) increase their fees arbitrarily, the increase adding up sometimes to as much as a whopping 500 percent. They also extort extra charges in the name of admission fee, development fee, annual fee, examination fee, summer vacation fee, etc. This is the bane of every parent whose child is studying in one of these schools.
In order to resolve the issue of undue fee hike by private schools, parents have been fighting tooth and nail and often gone to court over these issues. Rules are often chalked out to regulate the private sector of schooling.
However, attempts to regulate the fee structures in private schools invariably meets with stiff resistance. Schools argue that such laws infringe on their autonomy. Others argue that micro-management by the government is a no no in a democratic setup where freedom for enterprise is written in the law.
Of-course, schools need to make revenue out of education. They often have no choice but to increase the fees to meet the expenses for developing the school, for increasing the teacher’s pays, etc. In many cases however, even when the school is sitting on a surplus of money it still feels the need to raise its fees. Sometimes the hike in fees is because the institution needs to fund it’s other branches which makes it the most unfair demand from parents.
Education cannot and must not be commercialized. Most schools have acquired prime properties at very low rates to build their schools. In turn they must stick to their obligation of running the school on the premise of duty to society and not as a profit venture. Most schools conveniently, forget this aspect once things are on the go.
Elite private schools jack up their tuition fees year after year, throwing all norms of social justice to the winds. The managements of these schools are like a mafia with the parents and students at their mercy. The schools generate black money, they don’t pay proper income tax and extract donations, all of which are illegal and anti-social practices.
To maintain a balance a reasonable, progressive and transparent mechanism must be evolved. The government must rein in the exorbitant demands of the schools and regulate their fee structures to ensure they earn only reasonable surpluses.
Let us grant that in the matter of determination of the fee structure private educational institutions need the freedom like any other citizen carrying on an occupation. Let us grant also that they are entitled to a reasonable surplus for development of education and expansion of the institution and maybe also to generate profit.
The fee structure must be fixed keeping in mind the infrastructure and facilities available, investment made, salaries paid to teachers and staff, future plans for expansion and/or betterment of the institution. These however, must be subject to two restrictions, namely, non-profiteering and non-charging of capitation fees.
Surplus or profit can be generated but only to be used by the educational institution. It must not be diverted for any other use or purposes and cannot be used for personal gains or for other business or enterprise.
Apart from that there can be no interfering in the schools handling of its finances. However, a window of transparency can be made mandatory for all private schools. The accounts of the school can be made public on it’s website or presented in parent teacher meetings. Any discrepancy can be noted and if required then appropriate action can be sought.
Transparency of financial accounts may be the very answer that we seek to this problem.
Accountability and transparency must go hand-in-hand, and involve being aware of who the schools are accountable to, what the important pieces of information are, and how they can be communicated most effectively.
Schools must understand that they are accountable, that they are responsible and have a duty towards the parents to explain, clarify and justify expenditures.
It is possible to be accountable by providing a lengthy and technical explanation of every detail. However, if the accounts are hedged or not easily understood by all the aim of the process is lost.
Transparency is about being easy to understand, and being open, frank and honest in all communications, transactions and operations.
This would lead to a greater credibility of the school as well as peace of mind for the parents.
Can it be enforced? It certainly can. The government can make it mandatory for all schools to publish their accounts publicly failing which they would be accountable to the director of accounts.