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February 1, 2019

Defying SC orders: Private schools develop innovative fee reduction tactics

National

February 1, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The elite private schools have invented creative ways to defy clear Supreme Court (SC) orders on reduction of their tuition fee by 20 percent and refund of 50 percent summer vacation fee charged by them last year, The News has learnt.

A three-member SC bench headed by former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had passed an interim order on December 13, 2018 directing 22 upscale private schools to reduce their fee and refund half of the summer vacation fee. Later, another order was issued by Justice Ijazul Ahsan of the apex court on January 10 to clarify the original order that all private schools charging more than Rs5,000 monthly fee had to comply with the Supreme Court orders.

However, a number of elite schools of the capital sent the same fee bills to parents this month. Interestingly, some of these schools have mentioned 20 percent reduction in their tuition fee in their January fee bills but interpret the discount so smartly that students and parents do not get any relief.

For example, according to documents available with The News, a private school in Islamabad sent fee challan of Rs16,726 to the parents of a Grade-2 student for the month of November 2018. Interestingly, in January 2019, after the Supreme Court orders, the parents received the same fee challan showing payable amount as Rs16,726. This time the fee challah mentioned the “standard fee” as Rs47,996 (for two months) than applied a 20 percent deduction of Rs9,599 and offering another generous unsolicited discount of Rs7,679 but in the end the net payable remained the same i.e. Rs16,726.

When the parents of more than 100 students contacted the school administration this week for 50 percent refund of summer vacation fee as per the SC orders, they were told the school actually never charged summer vacation fee. They were told the school was only charging them their actual annual payable sum of 9-month fee in 12 “easy installments” for their convenience.

“When we heard this, my head started spinning at their debauchery. They were telling us the Supreme Court order is implemented without giving us relief of a single rupee,” said father of a student. He said the 20 percent reduction in fee is interpreted by school as discount already given to parents years ago at the time of students’ admission.

The father, who has also formed a parents association, met the administration of school along with other parents but he was flatly told that no fee reduction is possible for his three children.

The parents whose children are enrolled in other elite institutions also complained to The News that they did not get any relief from the schools despite the Supreme Court orders. An elite school in the twin cities which charges fee in US dollars came up with another trick.

The administration had promised parents at the start of session in 2018 that the dollar exchange rate would be frozen at Rs110 per dollar. But after the Supreme Court orders, the school administration unfroze the dollar price making it Rs139 per dollar and then applied 20 percent reduction as per the court orders.

When contacted by The News, an owner of three schools of a private schools’ chain in Islamabad said his school is fully complying with the orders of the Supreme Court but individual benefit to each student can’t be ensured.

He said a large number of students at his schools are already getting 30 to 40 percent discount on standard tuition fee which was given to them at the time of their admission, hence the school could not give them any more discount. However the parents disputed the owner’s claim saying they were not offered any discount at the time of their children’s admission.

The owner said the school offers scholarships and discounts to various students. “We are fully complying with the court orders but some people are misinterpreting the orders,” he said.

He said his was an ‘A’ category school which was mentioned among 22 institutions in the original orders of the apex court issued on December 13, 2018.

Talking to The News, spokesman for Private Schools Association of Islamabad Abdul Waheed claimed fee reduction was not implemented by a number of private schools as a review petition has been filed against the Supreme Court’s interim order.

“If the order of the apex court are fully implemented, 80 percent of private schools will be closed,” Waheed said, adding that the summer vacation fee could not be refunded as the schools had to pay the rent of buildings, salaries of staff and utility bills during the vacation months.

“It was a desire of former chief justice of Pakistan for schools to give one-time refund of the summer vacation fee but we can’t fulfill that desire as we also have to pay our bills,” he added.

When asked about the innovative tricks being used by private schools to defy order, Waheed said such practice is wrong. Following the court orders, the Private Educational Institution Regulatory Authority (Peira) issued a public notice directing all schools in Islamabad to submit compliance reports by December 31, 2018.

But, according to sources, so far a number of private schools have not submitted the reports. In his order, Justice Ijazul Ahsan had clearly mentioned that the interim order will prevail until final order.

“We are of the view that the matter be fixed for final hearing and decision should be given on merit, but the interim order already passed with the clarification given in this order will continue till the next date of hearing,” Justice Ahsan observed.

He also called for developing a mechanism to counter resistance on the part of private schools. “We live in a country of law and private individuals cannot be permitted to flout the law and circumvent orders passed by the highest court of the country,” Justice Ahsan wrote.