LAHORE - The Punjab government’s decision to allow eight percent annual increase in private schools fees was bitterly criticised by both students and parents while the school owners welcomed the decision.

Through an ordinance, the fee structure will be regulated which relates “schools charging fee from a student at the rate of Rs4,000 per month or above shall not charge the fee at a rate higher than eight percent of the fee charged for the class during the previous academic year.

“But this limitation shall not apply to a school which is charging monthly fee from a class of students which less than Rs4,000 per month inclusive of increase in the fee.”

Moreover, it says, “If there is reasonable justification for increase in the existing fee at a rate higher than eight percent in a school mentioned in subsection (1), the In charge may, at least three months before the commencement of the next academic year, apply to the Registering Authority.”

Documents available with The Nation show “the Registering Authority shall, within thirty days from the receipt of the application for increase in fee, take appropriate decision and inform the applicant of the decision taken”.

The government by amending the Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984, by another ordinance wanted to regulate schools having heavy fees.

The Punjab government defends its step saying it made a comprehensive strategy keeping in view both private school owners and parents. School Education minister Rana Mashood Ahmad Khan could not be reached for comments.

A senior officer of the Punjab School Education department spoke on anonymity and said that the private schools could not be left unchecked by the government. He added it was unpleasant that the parents and the school owners often develop conflicts on fee raise issues and the government wanted to regulate it seeing all factors like investment of the owners, inflation rate, and capacity of the parents and limitations of the government itself.

The government move has met with mixed reaction from parents, teachers and private school owners.

Prof Mukhtar Ahmad said that it was the worst decision of the government to allow regular increase in fee. He said that the schools with heavy fee structures were looting the parents on the name of education. “They are running money making factories not educational institutions,” he added.

Prof Ahmad further said that after the situation emerged on private schools fee, it would be hard for the government to claim it was serious on education and health issues.

The educator, who has been paying over thirty thousand rupees for his five children studying in private institutions, said: “Had government established more institutions it would have been hard for the private school owners raise fee rapidly.”

Sharafat Ali, a parent, rejected the government decision, saying that the private schools were already receiving high fees from parents. “Majority of the parents could not pay the fee according to the private schools’ demand, and the students have to suffer,” he added and urged the government to establish more institutions to end monopoly of the private schools .

Asghar Ali, an owner of Oxford Educator Faisalabad, was of the view that the government fee regulation in small city schools was not a matter. “The real issue is fee structure of the famous schools which demands too much from the parents in the name of education.”

A private schools owner, Muhammad Ejaz Ahmad said that over 75 percent schools are not in the limit of heavy fee structure. He said that per student cost in a public school is about Rs 8000 per month. “The government should boost quality of education in the public sector institutions so that an environment of completion could develop in the society,” he added.

Under Article 25-A of the Constitution, Ejaz Ahmad said, it was responsibility of the state to educate people. “It is not the responsibility of the private schools to do that if government successfully did it. Besides doing business, we are helping the government with the fulfillment of its moral and constitutional responsibility.

“If private schools close opportunities for admissions, it would be hard for parents to educate their children in government schools.”

Prof Dr Iftikhar Suleri, another owner of the private school, said that majority of the private schools was receiving low fee as compared to high level school that demands too much. City Schools, BeaconHouse, Lahore Grammar School, and International School of Choueifat are collecting thousands of rupees as fee. Some of the schools take over Rs15,000 per month from one student.

Prof Suleri stressed that the government should regulate their fee. Moreover, he added, the present decisions of the government could trigger fee raise in ordinary schools that seldom increase the fee seeing the paying capacity of the parents.

“It is the government responsibility to watch and control private schools , the quality of education they are delivering and many more things. “Besides heavy fee, they also receive money for uniforms, books, registration fee and under several other heads.”