School tuition fee order implementation: A test case

KARACHI: The parents of millions of children going to school were relieved as Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered a number of steps including, the most significant being ban on collecting fee for summer vacations (June, July).

The others were 20 percent cut in fee if monthly fee is above Rs. 5000. The schools were also restrained from  annual increase above 5.0 percent.
By another order, the court asked tax and investigating authorities to examine the record of fee and tax paid by the upscale schools.

The case started from Sindh High Court (SHC) which capped the annual increase at 5.0 percent but was violated by the majority of private schools. The violations of the orders passed by SHC lead to another round of litigation and legal battle ultimately reached the apex court, which then found out gross irregularities in the fee structure, no control of the government over private schools operating in every nook and corner of the country.

The apex court was taken aback when it found that directors of a private school were drawing salary of upto Rs. 8.5 million per month.

A three-member bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar with  Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Faisal Arbab as members directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to scrutinise tax records of the directors of the schools.

A school in a special case may raise fees beyond 5.0 percent but not more than 8.0 percent, the bench ordered.

The apex court also directed the private schools to either return 50 percent of the fees collected for the two-month summer vacations within two months or adjust the amount in next few months. No school will be allowed to shut down its operations in the wake of the order, or to expel students. Doing so will be considered a direct contempt of the court, said the order.

In an earlier hearing, the bench had sought forensic audit of private schools’ accounts. The top judge had remarked that private schools are charging fees according to their whims and wishes, adding that education is not a product which can be put up for sale.

The decision was taken after the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) presented an audit report on accounts of the 21 private schools. The report said all schools increased the fees not because of inflation but to increase profits of the owners who are the main beneficiary of such hikes.

The report said almost all schools hid their profits using different techniques. Owners prefer to withdraw their profits as remunerations which attract only 26 percent tax as compared to 45 percent which would be required to be paid in case the same amounts were withdrawn as dividends.

“The main techniques used for exaggerating expenses have been to pay out unreasonably high remunerations to the CEO/directors; take out earnings from schools and borrow funds.”

The AGP report recommended that cash transactions for school fee may be completely forbidden. Likewise, no summer fee may be allowed, it said.
There could be no two words that education considered a mission is now a full scale commercial activity and parents are fleeced.

It is also an irony that despite paying hefty amounts as tuition fee, the standard of education is abysmally low as teachers hired by these schools are low paid and less qualified and in most of cases are untrained.

The woes of parents are unending as besides  tuition fee , they have to dole out a good chunk of money demanded in the name of extra-curricular activities.

Now with a detailed order in field it is to be seen that whether it will be enforced, implemented in letter and spirit or school managements will find some other ways to circumvent the order and keep burdening the parents most of whom belong to middle class.

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