The Supreme Court in a recent judgement* on Modern School vs Union of India & Others, delivered on April 27 came down heavily on Delhi's private schools.
The Times of India (Delhi Edition) described the reactions from different constituencies in Delhi.
SCHOOL SPEAK : Private schools plead not guilty to charges of 'excessive' fees. "Fee hikes are discussed with numerous people, including representatives of the parents' body, the directorate of education, and the school management. Only after a consensus is reached is any decision implemented. The Supreme Court should have taken a decision after visiting our school and inspecting how we provide education on a shoe-string budget," says Vibha Parthasarthy, principal, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. Concurs Jyoti Bose, principal, Springdales School, "Our fees are in the range of Rs 1,100 to 1,300 per month and this can't be termed excessive. Yes, of the 1,100 schools in the Capital, there are many which do charge exorbitant fees. Rather than bringing these schools to book, the court has painted the whole community with the same brush."
Private schools also insist that there has been no arbitrary increase in fees recently. "The last time we raised fees was when the basic salary and dearness allowance of school teachers was merged. This was carried out strictly in conjunction with guidelines and subsequent to discussions among members of the management committee, which can inspect our accounts and financial forecasts anytime," says Abha Adams of Shriram School.
At the same time, private schools contend that with the court ruling having made it mandatory for them to accommodate 20 per cent of their students from the economically lower strata, fees might go up again. "We are not averse to taking in new students but this will be impossible within the present structure. Considering the way the government runs its own schools, we can't expect much from that quarter," says Parthasarthy. "If there are additional students, a fee hike is inevitable," says Bose.
OFFICIAL SPEAK : Not possible, says the Delhi government. "Our policy outlines that each school will have to accommodate the prescribed 20 per cent extra students but will not be allowed to hike fees," says Delhi education minister Arvinder Singh Lovely. Incidentally, the government can't force schools which already charge 'high' fees to impose cuts. "Schools which started out with high fees attract a particular kind of clientele. These schools don't come under our jurisdiction. However, if any of these schools hikes fees further, we will take action," says Lovely.
PARENT SPEAK : Great news, say parents, welcoming the Supreme Court decision. "Private schools raise fees based on any excuse. Less than 10 per cent of schools follow guidelines.
About 25 per cent of the fees go towards administrative charges and 75 per cent towards teachers' salaries. As pay scales are the same in all schools, why must the fee vary between Rs 1,500 and Rs 5,000 in different schools?" asks Virender Gupta, president of Delhi Abhibhavak Mahasangh, a federation of parents' associations.
Mr. Virender Gupta has a valid point - salaries of teachers and staff is the the biggest component of a school's monthly recurring expenses. If the pay scales are the same in all schools, the only reason for the fee structure to vary hugely is a huge difference in the kinds of extra facilities that are provided by the schools. The onus is now on the schools to prove that they are delivering that extra value when they charge 3-4 times the fees of other schools. As a general principle "you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get", but the parents need to perceive the value they are getting.
An editorial in the Hindustan Times says,
As part of land allotment agreements with the government, these schools had promised to set aside a 25 per cent quota for children from economically backward sections. Now the very same schools are making a public spectacle of themselves after their appeal challenging the government ‘diktat’ has been dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The unfortunate fallout of this grand show of double standards is that the private schools that acquired land at a commercial rate and had no need for governmental ‘assistance’ have also been ordered to reserve seats. The State has no business telling private schools how they should function and should leave them to the non-interfering mechanics of demand-and-supply. Also, forcing quotas on to these schools will generate resentment and actually create the opposite of the government’s ‘integrationist’ policy. It will be unfortunate if genuine private schools are made to pay for the sins of those which simply use their tag of independence to have their cake and eat it too.
I am not sure if the Supreme Court's judgement only applies to those schools that entered into agreement with the Delhi Government and accepted conditions laid down at the time of allotment of land at concessional rates by the government or if it also applies to schools that bought land at market rates without any concessions.
* I haven't been able to locate a copy of the Supreme Court's judgement yet.
Click here for a list of other posts on the Supreme Court's judgement and related issues.