On Monday, September 3, 2018, the Sindh High Court (SHC) passed a ruling deeming it illegal for private schools to increase tuition fee by more than five percent in any given year.
A three-judge larger bench of the SHC comprising Justices Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Ashraf Jehan ruled in favour of the Parents Action Committee (PAC) – a group of 2,000 parents who had filed a petition against what they deemed were unjust and extortive increases in annual tuition fee.
The court had already passed an interim order earlier this year restraining private schools from raising their fee by more than 5 percent. The PAC had highlighted that although under the existing regulations, private schools could not increase their fee by more than five percent, yet, they continued to violate the rules and routinely increased school fee by more than 10 percent.
Petitioners Bushra Jabeen, Arshad Fawad, Mohammad Shariq Feroz and more had challenged the increase in tuition fee by four private schools in violation of the ordinance. According to them, the schools in which their children studied were located in KDA Scheme, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Qasimabad and that these schools had increased tuition fee by 12 to 60 per cent in violation of the law.
The petitioners’ counsel argued that private schools could not be allowed to make a profit of such magnitude since education is a basic necessity of life like food and healthcare, and that the government had the authority to keep private schools from making such large and unjust profits.
He submitted that the government had passed the act and delegated powers to the authority to make rules on the fee structure which were not contested. He argued that in the flour prices case, the Supreme Court had passed judgment that the government had the authority to take measures against profiteering on essential commodities.
The additional advocate general of Sindh submitted that the government had the authority to regulate increase in tuition fee in private schools and that private schools could only increase tuition fee with the approval of the competent authority as per the relevant laws. He also submitted that private schools could not increase fee by more than five percent and that the government did not allow any private school to increase the tuition fee.
The private schools’ counsel submitted that the government authority to regulate the fee structure and other relevant rules had been challenged in the Supreme Court and requested the court to adjourn the matter till the disposal of the case.
He submitted that private schools were a competitive business and requested the court to remove the five percent fee increase limit on private schools. He said that his clients were paying high salaries to their staff which was evident from the audit report and added that the five percent fee hike restriction posed to be a denial of the schools’ right to do lawful business.
After hearing the arguments, the bench had reserved the judgment in June 2018 and had extended an interim stay order that warned private schools against attempting to increase the fee by any means. It also cautioned private schools’ administrations from showing any prejudice towards students whose parents or guardians were petitioners in the case, including but not limited to the reminder notices sent to parents or guardians in relation to the enhanced fee.
On March 5, 2018 another bench of the SHC had overruled a Sindh government’s rule restricting private educational institutions from increasing their fee by only upto five percent and had directed the Sindh government to frame the relevant rules within 90 days if it wished to regulate private school fee hikes.
While hearing an identical petition back in early 2016, the SHC had ordered the provincial education department to ensure that the rules binding private institutions from raising their fee by more than five percent in any academic year were enforced, and that private schools revised their fee structure only after prior approval by the government.
More recently, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had barred private schools from collecting fee during summer vacations while the Peshawar High Court had ordered schools not to collect more than half of the tuition fee for vacations that extend over 30 days and had deemed an annual ‘promotion fee’ illegal.