The new fee rules notified by the J&K government for private schools in Jammu and Kashmir have started a new debate over bringing these institutions under an appropriate regulatory framework.
The new fee rules for private schools are aimed at empowering the Fee Fixation and Regulatory Committee (FFRC) by vesting more regulatory powers to it.
On the other and the private schools' body has outrightly rejected the new rules saying that it will snatch the autonomy of the private educational institutions in J&K.
The private schools' body has opposed giving sweeping powers to FFRC over fee fixation wherein the committee has been empowered to penalize the private schools for in violation of government orders while charging fees from the students.
The school association is also apprehensive of witnessing zero investment in private education sector.
With the introduction of new fee rules for private schools, the government has empowered the FFRC to impose fine on private schools for non-compliance of the orders issued by the committee.
The chairman of the committee has been authorised to impose a fine on a private school equivalent to 1 percent of the total generated in the preceding year for the first time of non-compliance followed by three percent revenue for the second time of non-compliance and five percent in case of the third time of non-compliance.
Not only this, the government has empowered the FFFRC to put the private schools under no admission category if the institution continues to violate an order consecutively three times.
Not only this, the government has authorised the committee to recommend the appropriate authority to take over the management of the school.
The government has further tightened its noose around private schools, stating that if the private school fails to refund the amount as ordered by the Committee/Chairperson or fails to pay fine as imposed, the Committee/Chairperson shall order to recover the amount as an arrear of land revenue by Tehsildar concerned (Revenue Officer) and the amount so recovered shall be paid to such persons as mentioned in the order and the amount of the penalty to be deposited in the Government treasury in such manner as may be ordered by the Chairperson.
As per the new rules, it has been made mandatory for every private school to keep separate accounts for different kinds of transactions including fees collected, grants received, financial assistance received, payments of salary to staff, purchase of machinery and equipment, laboratory articles, library books, stationery and other expenditure incurred.
Every private school has to keep the registers, accounts, and records within the premises of the private school. They shall be made available at all reasonable times for inspection by an officer as may be nominated by the Chairperson.
Any officer, authorized by the committee or the Committee itself will have free access to the books, registers, accounts, records, documents, securities, cash and other property belonging to or in the custody of every private school at all reasonable times.
The committee may summon any person in whose possession they are, to produce the same and the officer who has made inspection of any private school under sub-rule (4) shall send a report with relevant records to the Chairperson of the Committee within one week.
Going by the new rules, it seems that the government strictly wants to bring the private schools under new regulatory framework which is good as it will offer a great scope to address concerns of stakeholders who often accuse private schools of fleecing students and parents.
Over the years, the regulation of fee structure in private schools has remained a never ending debate as the government orders and circulars issued by from time to time were not implemented on ground.
When and how the J&K government will make these private schools accountable? It has remained a million dollar question for every comon Kashmiri.
Every year the private educational institutions mostly the top notch schools are in news, not for any good practices but for allegedly fleecing parents and their children in the name of providing admissions and self prescribed books on exorbitant rates at the onset of every new academic session.
The private schools including few elite institutions set up in city centre as well as in other districts start looting parents by adopting illegal means of profiteering.
There are always complaints that parents are fleeced on account of admissions to annual fee to ‘other’ fee.
Having said that, we need to ponder upon how the illegal profiteering will stop. Who will bell the cat? Whenever private schools are caught on wrong foot, government turns a blind eye while as civil society gives a damn to it.
In present scenario, admitting a child in any top notch private schools including the newly established CBSSE affiliated schools has become unaffordable. Not because of competition but for monetary reasons.
Under the garb of providing admissions, these top notch schools have made it a business with good returns.
But having said this, it is important to acknowledge contribution of institutions alongside. The private education sector is complimenting the government education sector and is contributing their bit in imparting education to thousands of students. But there has to be some regulatory mechanism so that education doesn’t turn into a business.
For this, we cannot put blame private schools alone; the government is equally responsible for its lackadaisical approach in bringing accountability in the sector.
Prior to bringing new rules, government had all the powers to streamline the functioning of the schools but till date none of the orders and recommendations issued by the FFRC against any of the top notch schools were ignored by the government from time to time which encouraged these institutions to continue illegal profiteering.
So here, the demand for categorization of schools is must which should be done on priority by the government to streamline the sector. It won’t be justified to paint all the schools with same brush given the fee structure and the money charged from parents besides the aids received by some schools. The low budget schools have already suffered and are at the verge of closure while as more than 200 schools have already faced closure due to financial loses while the elite and top notch schools, with no watch and ward from the government, continue to run their independent empire.
These private schools are supposed to be the institutions of excellence and majority of the institutions are contributing their bit and are filling the gap where the government has not been able to reach so far. In terms of academics, there is no denying that private schools take a lead but the charging and regulation of fee structure plays spoilsport.
Given our experience from past many years, it is evident that government has failed to bring accountability in the private schools and instead encourage their practices of looting parents.
The society needs to be conscious of its responsibilities. Everything cannot be left to the authorities to address. Private schools are doing a fairly good job in imparting education to children.
However it cannot be justified that they fleece students and parents on one pretext or the other. It is here that the government's move to bring these private institutions under a regularly framework is applicable.
It will provide a level playing field for all those who desire to study in private institutions, including those from marginalised sections of the society who remain away from such institutions due to high fee concerns.