School ‘Loot’: Are Parents Being Cheated With Massive Fee Hikes?

200%. That could be the increase in fees for students in Delhi Public School Ghaziabad, located in Gurugram’s Palam Vihar. “A Class IX student last year paid Rs 32,600. This year, the proposed fee is Rs 1,04,000,” says Dev Kumar, whose child studies there.

As distressed parents across the country protest the fee hike, schools continue to expel students for non-payment of fees, sending circulars justifying the hike, and in some cases, even shutting down for a few days without notice.

At the heart of the debate lie two questions – how much should private schools charge as fees and how much of an increase is justified each year?

In NCR, Parents Feel the Pinch

Parents of children studying in schools like Manav Rachna, Shiv Nadar and Shalom Hills International School in the National Capital Region (NCR) have organised themselves to protest what they call “arbitrary hikes”.

Shiv Nadar School, Phase 1, Gurugram, has raised its fee by 65% in the last five years, says Jitesh, a parent.

“Schools have increased fees for years now. We said nothing. This year, they have hiked the fee by 400% in some areas of the fee structure. This is sheer loot. My salary is not increasing at that rate every year, how do I pay this?” Kumar asks.

The fee structure for Shiv Nadar School, Noida, for the academic year 2017-2018. (Photo: The Quint)

Not too far from the Shiv Nadar School is the Shriram Millennium School in Noida’s Sector 135. The school has upped its fees by almost 14% since last year. “I paid Rs 65,540 last year for this quarter. I’m now paying Rs 74,710,” a parent tells The Quint.

A screenshot of the fee structure for Shriram Millennium School last year. (Photo: The Quint)
A screenshot of the fee structure for Shriram Millennium School this year. (Photo: The Quint)

Despite Surplus Funds, Why Are Schools Squeezing Parents Dry?

The Quint spoke to dozens of parents across the city and there is an acceptance of the fact that a fee increase for infrastructural development or to pay salaries to teachers is understandable – as long as schools can justify these. But can they?

An investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2010 shed light on the fact that several well-known schools had surplus funds but were still pushing up the fees each year.

“In many cases, schools charge fees they cannot justify. Several interim committees set up by courts have exposed irregularities in the way schools are managing their funds,” an education consultant told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.

Many schools this year have also cited the Seventh Pay Commission as one of the reasons to up fees.

Screenshot of a circular sent by the Shiv Nadar School in Noida to parents. (Photo: The Quint)

Advocate Ashok Agrawal cites the findings of a 2016 committee set up by the Delhi High Court to question this excuse.

“In 2016, the Justice Anil Dev Singh committee found 525 schools overcharging on the pretext of implementing recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, while not actually doing it. These schools had a surplus of Rs 350 crore,” Agrawal tells The Quint.

Agrawal is not opposed to schools raising salaries for teachers, but says schools are making education a business in the name of 7th Pay Commission. “Every year, these schools open new branches. Where does that money come from?” he asks.

Schools Stuck With Huge Land Loans?

A senior consultant who has helped set up schools in the Delhi-NCR region sheds more light on one of the possible reasons for the fee hike. “Land cost is a big part of school fees,” he tells The Quint.

For private schools set up in Delhi years ago, land was allotted at a subsidised rate. “But for newer schools in Noida and Gurugram, land was bought at market prices,” he adds.

A source in the management of a Gurugram-based school concurred, adding that the school has to repay several bank loans taken to buy land for the school.

What Makes Delhi Different?

It does not come as much surprise then that some Delhi-based schools haven’t had steep hikes in their fees.

This also has some legal precedence. In January 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered private schools built on land allotted by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to seek the government’s permission before hiking the fee.

Out of the 1,700 private recognised schools in the city, 410 are built on DDA land.

Some 168 schools submitted proposals for a fee increase, out of which only five got the nod. Requests from prominent schools, including Delhi Public School RK Puram, Father Agnel School and Ahlcon International School, were rejected.

In Delhi’s Springdales School, the fee rise has been a modest Rs 2,000-3,000 this year, a parent tells us. In South Delhi’s Vasant Valley School, there hasn’t been any, a teacher in the school said. Some other known Delhi schools, including DPS, RK Puram and Modern School, Barakhamba Road, haven’t declared new fee structures yet.

The case of Sanskriti School, though, is different. The fee for a class 9 student in the academic year 2016-2017 for the first quarter was Rs 51,676. The student, now in class 10, has paid Rs 57,981 this year.

Screenshot of the fees structure for a class 10 student in Sanskriti school. (Photo: The Quint)

The Quint reached out to Sanskriti School about whether they sought the government’s permission before upping the fee, but hasn’t received a response yet.

The Growing Chorus for a Law

As protests against schools gain momentum, parents are demanding a legal solution.

Their demands have got a shot in the arm after the Gujarat government passed a law that seeks to regulate fees in private schools, keeping in mind the limited means of middle-class parents.

Ashok Agrawal, who is also the National Convenor of the All India Parents Association, has written to the HRD Ministry about a central legislation, a copy of which is available with The Quint.

As each day passes, the growing discord between the two stakeholders escalates. Parents’ groups have decided not to budge. Will the government, in this case, be able to pull off a balancing act?

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