Amendments in Fee Regulation Act satisfies none

Prajakta Joshi
Saturday, 1 December 2018

Parents and activists allege that the new amendments will push education towards commercialisation

Amidst a huge opposition from parents associations and recurring cases of parents protesting against schools (mostly private) over the issue of fee hike, the State government still passed the bill making amendments in the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Fee Regulation) Act (FRA), 2011.

The Act, highly condemned by the parents and activists to be in favour of the school management, may play a major role in further commercialisation of education in a state, where the government has been accused of promoting privatisation of the sector on several occasions.

“The debate over FRA and the rights of parents and school management over deciding the structure of fee hike, has been prevalent for almost two years now,” said Mukund Kirdat, education activist. 

BRINGING TOGETHER 25 PER CENT PARENTS
While the High Court, in an earlier instance, had denied the right to a single parent challenging fee hike by the school, the government established a committee under Retd High Court Judge VJ Palshikar to make recommendations to bring about amendment in the FRA. However, the parents who have been protesting the amendment since it was proposed strongly, believe that the recommendations did not include many of the clauses now brought in by the government.

Adv Anubha Sahai of India Wide Parents Association said, “The committee never recommended that 25 per cent of the school’s parents need to come together to fight fee hike. And since State Education Minister Vinod Tawde had announced it last year, we tried to convey this to them that it would be practically impossible to bring together so many parents to complain against the school. The minister, each time, continued to give us false reassurances that our suggestions and grievances would be taken into consideration, but that never happened, and the bill was finally passed on November 26.”

The parents in the State have called the day ‘Black Day’ in the history of the State’s education sector as it unquestionably gave the school management an upper hand in the issue of fee hikes.

While another clause in the controversial Act, which states that if more than 75 per cent of the parents are ready to pay the hiked fee, the rest need to follow the suit, is seen to be the democratic way of working things out. Kirdat, on the other hand mentions that it is not suitable in a non-profit activity like education.

“In education, emphasis on adequate audits and transparency is necessary no matter what. So considering an arbitrary fee hike legitimate just because majority of the parents find it okay to pay it, is not how an educational institute should work,” he added.

COMMERCIALISATION OF EDUCATION
The activist also feared that this may turn education into a profit making business. “There is always a possibility that the money made by private educational institutions may be siphoned of to the stock exchange, thus the profits made by the educational institutions may be utilised illegitimately in the corporate world,” Kirdat said.

The activists have long feared that this may lead to the landing of the educational sector in the hands of the corporate, which might certainly hamper its objective as well as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) quite adversely.

According to the data received from the AAP activist, a similar trend had started building up in New Delhi as well as couple of years ago. However, the government recognised it and started inspecting audits of the private schools. Following this, around 150 of the 250 schools audited had to reimburse the access fees to the parents, while the rest have been served legal notices.

The activists and parents at large are irked that while many other states are trying to strengthen their government and aided school network,  Maharashtra is trying to support and promote the private lobby in education so vigorously.

Sharad Javdekar has pointed out that the way farmers are being made to fight for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) every year to boost the political agendas. Similarly, the State government seems to be playing with the issues of school fee hike, to make parents fight over it every year.

School managements is not happy with amendment either.

The managements of private schools too have issues with the clauses in the FRA amendment. While the parents find the number 25 per cent for the parents that need to unite to complain against fee hike, too high, the school managements on the other hand find this number to be low.

“In a democratic setup, we believe that at least 33 per cent (that is one thirds) of the parents should be made to come together to protest against fee hike. Further, we disagree with the slab of 15 per cent that has been decided for the schools as the upper limit for fee hike. However, while a 15 per cent of hike would be adequate for the schools that have huge amounts of fees such as Rs 80,000 per year or more, the budget schools with annual fees between Rs 9,000 and 18,000 would suffer. With a raise of hardly Rs 1,500 to 2,000, how are they supposed to pay rents, salaries as well as provide the students with facilities?” Rajendra Singh of Independent English Schools Association (IESA) questioned.

While an Act like this needs to be public-friendly, unfortunately, many of its clauses do point towards it being pro-management, although, the schools too are not very happy with it. Once again, seems like the State  government has tried to shrug off its responsibility of managing the fee hike issue sensibly, pushing the state’s education sector more and more towards privatisation.

SOME OF THE CLAUSES OPPOSED BY THE PARENTS
- The parents will be able to complain against the school only if at least 25 per cent of them come together.
- If two-thirds, that is more than 76 per cent of the parents are ready to or already pay the hiked fee, then the raise becomes legit.
- The school management can charge late payment fee with penal interest.
- There is no mention of fine for the school managements that are found guilty of arbitrary fee hike.

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