Low-cost private schools in a fix over fees
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By Kashif Abbasi | 9/30/2015 12:00:00 AM
ISLAMABAD: Raja Khalid, 40, who runs a low-cost private school in Bhara Kahu, is disturbed over the government`s recent directive to all private schools to refund the hike in the fee which was implemented this year.

Low-cost private schools continue to outnumber the expensive but more high profile private schools in Pakistan. The former are run without any funding and support from the government while the latter tend to get subsidised plots for the construction of school buildings in urban areas.

And the recent tug of war between parents, expensive private schools and the government has landed these low cost schools in trouble.

A group of parents took to the streets against the exorbitant fee increase by the elite schools at the start of the new academic session.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the issue and directed that there would be no increase in the current year`s fee.

Subsequently, the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (PEIRA) issued a notification directing all private schools to readjust the increase d fee in the coming months.

The low-cost private schools, which started their academic session in March/April, were also directed to readjust the fee and this is giving them sleepless nights.

`We used to charge Rs500 per month. After a gap of two years, we increased the fee to Rs700 in March this year to meet recurring expenses.

But now the parents have started asking us to refund or adjust the increased fee in the challans of the coming months,` Khalid tells Dawn.

He said after increasing the fee, he had alsorevised the salaries ofteachers and other staff members.

`I have 110 students; how I can return Rs1,000 per student? We are also barred from charging any extra fee. Now, the exam session is approaching and we have no idea how we are going to arrange for the answer sheets. Earlier, we used to charge Rs300 per student for it,` he said and claimed that parents, teachers and students were happy with the school`s performance and fee structure.

`But now things have changed.

The parents are demanding the old fee structure which we can`t afford,Khalid said, adding low-cost schools had nothing to do with the recent controversy over the fee hike by expensive, private schools.

`A few elite schools are charging exorbitant fee and the parents protested against them. But the government notification has barred all private schools from increasing the fee, he added.

Ghulam Murtaza, the operator of another private school, said he did not increase the fee this year. `I will not have to readjust the fee but Pm worried about the upcoming examination.

He said every year his school charged Rs400 per student for the answer sheets and question papers but now the government has barred the schools from charging any additional fee from the students.

I don`t know how I will manage.

Why did the government implement this notification on all schools? There is no justification for this,` said Murtaza.

Private schools mull approaching court While people such as Murtaza and Khalid continue to grapple with the notification, the operators of the expensive schools too are not clear about their course of action.

While officially they claim that the notification will be followed, some owners, on the condition of anonymity, state otherwise.

Mr Nassir Kasuri, the executive director of Beaconhouse School System, said all private schools would follow PEIR A`s notification.

However, some of the owners of elite schools requesting not be named told Dawn that they would challenge the notification in the courts.

`In Lahore, private schools have already challenged the Punjab government`s decision, we are alsothinking along similar lines,` said the director of a private school.

Aliya Agha, who launched the parents` campaign against the exorbitant fees, is also of the opinion that the notification will not be implemented.

`They are forcing the parents to pay the fee hike. We are going to launch a formal complaint with PEIRA,` she said.

`In the beginning of this month, I received a Rs29,500 challan for my daughter. Today, I deposited the fee in the bank. I don`t know when we will get relief in the light of the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority notification, said Abdul Aziz whose children go to an expensive private school in Islamabad.

Speaking to Dawn, the newlyappointed ad hoc chairman PEIRA, Syed Junaid Akhlag, said the government would ensure that all private schools readjusted the enhanced fee in the coming months` tuition charges.

`So for, we have not received any complaint by parents. We will cancel the registration of any school that does not implement the notification.

Mr Akhlag, who is a joint secretary at CADD, said under the PEIRA Act, private schools can`t increase the fee without getting permission from the authority.

Asked why Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority gave a free hand to private schools for so many years, he said: `Since I assumed the charge a few days ago, I`m not in a position to answer this question. But I`ll look into the matter,` he said.

Talking about the low-cost schools, which increased the fee in March, the chairman said: `We issued the notincation for all the schools. The low cost schools should be asked how they will manage the readjustment.