KARACHI: While declaring the 15% to 20% hike in tuition fee by private schools illegal, the Sindh High Court (SHC) ruled on Friday that such fee should not be increased beyond 5% per year.
The court also ordered the provincial education department to strictly act in accordance with law and submit quarterly reports to the court in respect of the registered private schools' audit as well as enforcement of the 5% rule. The bench was headed by Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
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These orders were contained in a judgment which was announced on Friday on a set of petitions filed by parents and students as well as management of the private schools in the support of and against the increase in monthly tuition fee.
The petitions were filed by nearly 300 students of the North Nazimabad campus of The Generations School Private Limited, arguing that the rise in fee was in violation of the Sindh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation and Control) Ordinances of 2003 and 2015, as under section six of the law, the fee structure must be fixed with prior approval of the government.
Naming the provincial chief secretary, education secretary, education director, administrator of the Generation's school and others as respondents, the petitioners had argued that the private school hiked its fee by 15% to 20%, which was contrary to the law, thus the same should be declared illegal and unjustified.
On March 6, 2015 the court had restrained the school management from taking any coercive action for the recovery of the increased fee. On February 17 this year, the bench had reserved its order after hearing arguments from the provincial law officer as well as the lawyers for the parents and the school management.
On Friday, the judgment was announced, which concluded that "with the increase ultra vires of sub rule 7(3) as stated in the foregoing, the grievance of schools is not on the mechanism of such increase, rather it is on the quantum of 5% of such increase, thus the question is about determination of this percentile, which requires taking into consideration many factors like cost of doing business, minimum payable salaries, taxes and cost of utilities, etc…requiring the consideration of facts and taking of evidence, which is beyond the scope of the writ jurisdiction as being agitated by private schools in the present petitions."
Therefore, the bench declared that "as such no illegality had been shown that the above sub-rule is inherently in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution, thus such petitions of schools are dismissed."
The SHC order further reads that "…private schools are not following said mechanism and there is no compulsion on them to do so from the [education] department."
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The court also took serious note of the response from the education department. "It is painful to note that no statement has been provided by the department as to the receipt of each year's audited account report from the private schools and its enforcement of the restricted 5% increase of tuition fee."
The court ordered the department to strictly act in accordance with law and ensure the compliance of the rules and regulations and submit quarterly reports to the court in respect of such audits and the 5% rule.
The bench also allowed the petitions filed by parents or students "in the term that the respondent schools shall only increase tuition fee no more than 5% per annum from the date of their re-registration for three years and in case there has been no registration after the said period of three years fee shall not be increased unless the school registers itself."
The court ordered that the private respondent schools that have increased their tuition fee over 5% per annum for the last three years from the date of their respective registration/re-registration, no further enhancement be permitted until their re-registration whereupon fee enhancement will be regulated in strict compliance of the rules.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2016.
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