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Karachi

September 4, 2018

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SHC declares private school fee hike over 5pc illegal

The Sindh High Court’s (SHC) full bench declared on Monday that increasing private schools’ tuition fee more than five per cent of the last fee schedule is illegal, directing the institutions to either refund the excess amount or adjust it in future fees within three months.

The SHC issued a detailed order on the petitions of parents who had challenged the increase in tuition fees by 12 to 60 per cent in violation of the Sindh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation and Control) Ordinance of 2001.

The bench said its verdict shall apply in rem to all the students and private institutions that are governed under the Ordinance and its Rules of 2005.

The parents had said their children are studying at private schools in KDA Scheme, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Qasimabad, adding that their respective school administrations have increased their tuition fees by 12 to 60 per cent in violation of the Ordinance.

The court said the education sector has been neglected by every government in the past 70 years, adding that a nominal percentage in the budget is allocated to the sector and most of it either remains unused or is misappropriated.

“This constant lack of interest towards educating our children has not only destroyed public sector education of the country, but also created a vacuum in the public education sector that has encouraged the private education sector to enter the lucrative business,” the SHC’s full bench headed by Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi stated in the judgment.

The bench said education has acquired the status of a highly profitable industry in most cities of the province, adding that private schools dictate their own terms by charging fees of their own choice, with the least government control or supervision.

The court said the ultimate constitutional mandate of providing social justice and free education to all children of the country cannot be compromised while regulating the private education sector.

It has to be ensured that the element of reasonableness in charging tuition fee shall always be kept in mind so students can continue their studies on payment of affordable tuition fees, which shall not be permitted to be increased every year, it added.

ze government to provide compulsory education to all children has been reduced to a certain extent, but at a much higher financial burden to be borne by the middle and lower-middle classes.

The bench said that the prime reason for the growth of the private education sector is that the public sector has miserably failed to fulfil its constitutional commitment of providing compulsory free education as well as to provide quality higher education at affordable cost.

The government is required to improve public sector education by increasing the education budget and to formulate a uniform education policy for both public and private education sectors so that there is no difference in the quality and standard of education provided by public and private institutions, it added.

The court said the private sector needs to be regulated in such a manner that while they are permitted to run their businesses, they also keep in mind the constitutional mandates and ensure that they charge reasonable tuition fees.

Imparting knowledge is a divine service and providing education is a noble task that must not be treated on a par with profitable businesses having no element of service to children, particularly when the right to free compulsory education has been recognised as one of the fundamental rights under Article 25-A of the Constitution, it added.

Regarding an earlier order by an SHC division bench that quashed Rule 7(3) of the relevant Rules of 2005 that imposed restriction of up to five per cent increase on tuition fees of private schools, the full court observed that such an order does not lay the correct law on the interpretation of Article 18 of the Constitution.

The court declared that the provisions of Section 6 of the relevant Ordinance and Rule 7(3) do not suffer from any constitutional defect or legal infirmity and the same are intra vires to the Constitution and the law.

The full bench declared that increasing private schools’ annual tuition fee more than five per cent of the last fee schedule is illegal, directing the institutions to either refund the excess amount or adjust it in future fees within three months.

The petitioners’ counsels had earlier argued that private schools cannot be allowed to make profit on their own terms because education is included in the basic necessities of life and the government has the authority to stop private schools from profiteering.

They referred to the Supreme Court judgment in the flour price case in which the top court said the government is bound to take steps against profiteering on essential commodities.

Sindh’s additional advocate general said the government has the authority to

regulate private schools with regard to increasing tuition fees, adding that such institutions can only increase fees with the approval of the competent authority in accordance with the relevant laws.

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