Shivani*, a Bengaluru-based IT professional and mother of two, estimates that by the time her youngest reaches class 10, she would have spent over Rs 32 lakh for her education in the private school she currently attends. Her elder one goes to the same school, and by the time she reaches class 10, Shivani would have spent over Rs 23 lakh.
Shivani’s estimates are based on the 15% annual fee hike that the school has been implementing. And while the amounts may seem exorbitant, Shivani says she is reluctant to change the school because she has no complaints apart from the exorbitant fee charged.
Shivani’s story is similar to that of many parents in Bengaluru and across the country.
In Shivani’s case, when she questioned the school’s management last year about the increase, the management said they weren’t aware that parents were being hassled by the year on year hike.
“I pay Rs 1.25 lakh annually for my younger one who’s in Montessori III. They said they would reduce the hike from class 1. But many parents had already paid fees for the next academic year by that time,” she says.
When the school did not live up to its promise, Shivani formed a WhatsApp group with other concerned parents. This year, they have held six meetings with the management: two parents representing each class.
“The management has been patient in lending an ear to our concerns but when we told them to give us a breakup of what the money is being used for, they said they were not mandated to do so,” Shivani alleges.
The school has also made Shivani and other parents sign a form during their children’s admission that they should be prepared for a 12-15% hike and that they should not participate in protests against the school. If they did so, their child might be at the risk of rustication.
“Parents are also scared because they don’t want their kids to suffer,” Shivani says.
Just last month, parents of children attending Vibgyor High in Kadugodi had staged a protest outside the school over the fee hike which they said was between 15% and 25%. But the school management told Meghana Choukkar for Deccan Chronicle that the fee increases when the child moves from pre-primary to primary and that otherwise, the fee is hiked by 9% only.
However, parents have been dissatisfied with the response and have started a Twitter campaign about the same. Parents tweet their concerns between 3pm to 7pm everyday with the hashtag #PrivateSchoolFeeHikeAtrocity and tag everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the HRD Ministry as well as Education Minister Prakash Javadekar.
Ritesh* whose daughter will start class 4 at Vibgyor, says that the hike is unreasonable. “Our salary hike percentage is in single digits but the school hikes the fee in double digits. They say it’s to give a hike to teachers and improve infrastructure but we do not have a clear breakup. However, we can’t keep changing schools so we have to comply and cough up the amount they ask for,” he says.
Shivani shares that they have hopes on the Karnataka Education (Second Amendment) Bill which was introduced in the Assembly last week. The amendment proposes a Rs 10 lakh fine for private schools - both CBSE affiliated and State Board - which charge exorbitant fees. The penalty will be imposed after an inquiry however, and the school will have to refund the excess money charged.
Private schools had opposed the move, claiming that an one size fits all formula cannot work for schools. Conceding that the government had the right to introduce the amendment, schools said that an 8 to 10% hike should be allowed.
States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as well as Delhi already have mechanisms to regulate school fee hikes, according to Deepika Burli’s report in TOI.
Tamil Nadu for instance, has a fee fixation committee to be headed by a retired High Court judge. The committee fixes and regulates hikes based on the school’s audit and justification for it.
However, in January, the Supreme Court limited the committee’s powers for ICSE and CBSE schools – the committee can only verify whether the facilities are upgraded as promised by the school with relation to the hike, and hear complaints of excess collection of fee.
Chennai-based educationist Dr N Murugaiyan says that despite the fee fixation committee being there, schools often continue charging extra in the guise of “book fees, uniform fees, building development fees” and so on.
“Some schools even collect fees in cash and do not give receipts. And parents generally don’t complain because they don’t want the hassle or are worried about their child,” Dr Murugaiyan points out.
S Shilpa’s case substantiates what Murugaiyan says. Her daughter goes to a private school in Coimbatore. She says that the school has implemented a 14% hike for the incoming class 3 batch.
Shilpa notes that they paid Rs 50,400 annual fee when her daughter was in class 2. “For class 3, they are asking for Rs 14,400 per semester, which is Rs 57,600 for the year. When we asked why they were increasing it by more than 10%, we were told that they could do so because they hiked the previous class 3 batch’s fee by about 10% only. They want to give teachers a 10% hike this time and use the rest to develop extra-curriculars,” Shilpa says.
She adds that there is little clarity about what these extra-curricular activities and avenues will comprise of.
Shilpa says that the school takes the semester fees in cash, but gives the receipt too.
Parents have been protesting against arbitrary fee hikes in various cities since last year, according to Akshatha M’s report in Hindustan Times. Protests took place in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad among other places.
The Hyderabad School Parents’ Association (HSPA) had not only filed a petition in the High Court about the issue, but in May 2016 also launched a ‘missed call campaign’. Parents had to give a missed call on a given day on a number if they wanted school fees to be regulated.
It had received overwhelming responses: 1.3 lakh calls in total; 17,800 from Delhi, 14,994 from Maharashtra and 10,550 from Karnataka. In July last year, the HSPA was also successful in getting many schools to cut down their fees substantially.
Numerous online petitions have also come up to oppose arbitrary school fee hikes and regulate it. A search on Change.org reveals various such petitions.