Bringing relief to many private school managements in the state, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday, December 27, struck down two government orders, earlier issued by the state government, fixing a ceiling on the fees collected in private schools and colleges. Several groups of private school management, including the Andhra Pradesh Private Unaided Schools Managements' Association (APPUSMA), had objected to the governmentâ€™s fee structure, saying it did not account for the varied infrastructure in each school. Revoking the government orders, the High Court found fault with the fee structure being based on the schoolâ€™s geographical location (with the fee limits increasing from gram panchayats to municipalities and municipal corporations) without considering the infrastructure and facilities provided.
The government orders had been passed on August 24, a week after schools reopened for in-person classes across the state. However, as many school associations moved the court over the matter, most schools, which have also been suffering financially during the pandemic, have continued to charge their usual fee amount regardless of the government orders, according to Murali Mohan Venigalla, Secretary of Vijayawada Childrensâ€™ Schools and Tutorialsâ€™ Association. â€śAfter the government orders were issued, there were no checks conducted by education department officials on the actual fees being collected in schools. Since the matter was in court anyway, schools have continued to charge fees above the limits fixed in those orders,â€ť he said.
While striking down the fee structure, which was fixed by the Andhra Pradesh School Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commission (APSERMC) and applicable for the next three academic years (2021 to 2024), the High Court directed the APSERMC to invite suggestions from the management of private schools and junior colleges before drafting a new fee structure for the three academic years â€” 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24 â€” by March 2022. This structure will be retroactively applicable, according to reports.
The High Court has said that in case the fees in the new structure are lower than the amount already collected by schools, the management would have to reimburse the excess amount collected for the year 2021-22 to parents. If the fees fixed by the government are higher, schools will be allowed to collect the balance amount from parents. â€śSchool managements were not consulted at all before the previous fee structure was announced,â€ť says Murali Mohan. While several schools have struggled to collect fees from parents who were financially affected by the pandemic, there have also been reports of school management forcing parents to pay exorbitant fees. When asked if schools are likely to furnish refunds to parents once the new fee structure is announced, Murali Mohan says that this situation is only likely to arise in a few high-budget schools. â€śMost budget schools have remained unaffected by the government orders, as the fees were already within those limits. In medium-budget schools too, the fees are usually reasonable and are likely to fall within the new structure if itâ€™s fixed with school managementsâ€™ consensus,â€ť he said.
Old fee structure
Andhra Pradesh has also fixed the fee structure for engineering courses for the convenor quota, which includes 35% of the seats in private colleges. In most private universities, the annual tuition fees for BTech has been capped at around Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000. Last year, the state government had announced that 50% of the seats in private universities would be brought under the convenor quota, which would have to adhere to the government fee structure and reservation criteria, to bring them within the reach of marginalised students, However, after discussions with college managements, this was brought down to 35%.
Under the old fee structure which has been revoked by the High Court, private school fees were capped at around Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000 per annum from nursery to Class 10 in three categories â€” gram panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations. For intermediate (class 11 and 12) the fees were capped at Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 per annum, inclusive of tuition fee, prospectus and registration fee, admission fee, examination fee, laboratory fee, sports fee, computer laboratory fee, library fee, extracurricular fee, student welfare fund, student healthcare scheme, study tour, alumni and other similar fees related to academics. Hostel fees were capped at Rs 18,000 to Rs 24,000 per annum, while there was a uniform Rs 20,000 cap per annum on competitive examination coaching.
However, school management had said that these amounts were too low and that in many cases, the school building rent alone could not be recovered. School teachers had also expressed apprehension that the old fee structure could further impact their salaries which had gone down during the pandemic.