The state often seems to resolve issues temporarily by amending the policies without thinking of its implications in practice. Hence, many of these policies are for the sake of policy; they have little to do in real sense or in practice
The issue of ‘fees’ in private schools resurfaced again in the year 2015 as private school operators sought to increase fees significantly. The student wings of political parties protested the move that resulted in the formation of Technical Committee based at Department of Education in April to explore scientific measures for fixing fees.
That technical committee assessed the existing policies on fees and submitted a draft to Ministry of Education proposing categories on which private schools could charge fees. Yet the measures proposed for ‘fees’ are hardly specific, precise and clear to address the issues substantially.
In fact, the issue of ‘fees’ in Nepal’s private schools has been intensively contested. In one of such instances, the Supreme Court issued a verdict banning private schools from increasing fees for three years in 2012.
Hence, this is a continuing problem arising from a variety of reasons partly related to policy issues in that there are inadequacies at certain points in the existing regulations while the policies are poorly enforced at other ends. Additionally, the ambiguous role of the state in private education increases this difficulty further. Given the context, the way out ahead could be a genuine collaboration by the relevant stakeholders at different levels in the sector.
Amidst growing debate over private education, the Government of Nepal amended education regulations in 2003 AD to determine and regulate ‘fees’ in private schools.
According to the policy provision, School Classification and Fees Monitoring Committee located in District Education Office would classify private schools registered under the Company Act into A, B, C, and D categories based on the facilities schools provided.
Specifically, schools are classified on the bases of physical facilities, management of teachers, responsibility and transparency, school operation procedure, educational achievement and other achievement allocating certain marks for such facilities and making calculations at the end. Consequently, the monthly tuition fee, annual, and admission fees would be fixed based on the categories of the schools. However, this policy has gaps in that it leaves out many other categories for fees unfixed.
In the meantime, private school operators are a bit resistant in abiding by those regulatory frameworks. For instance, the then Prime Minister asked them to pay five per cent education tax in 2012 AD, but they refused, negotiated and paid only one per cent tax collected directly from parents.
In fact, private school operators have strong nexus with stakeholders to lobby and negotiate concerning issues in their favor. To do this they have their representations in most of the policy decisions, and their presence is also significant in the parliament at the moment.
The role of the state towards private education also looks a bit conflicting in the broader national context. The private schools are permitted to operate as companies through policy amendments since 2003 AD, which marks an interesting turning point in the history of private education. In a sense, that policy arrangement allows private schools to do business legally, and they are often blamed for commercializing education.
In this case, restricting fees in private schools is a bit contradictory. However, the policies intend to
regulate ‘fees’ in private schools. Therefore, this clearly shows ambiguous perspective of the state towards this sector.
The policy formulations in the country mostly get spearheaded by power dynamics among stakeholders — government, private school operators, student wings of political parties, parents, etc. And the policies need to be genuinely implemented.
However, the state often seems to resolve issues temporarily by amending the policies without thinking of its implications in practice. Hence, many of these policies are for the sake of policy; they have little to do in real sense or in practice.
To overcome the persisting hurdles in the sector, the first thing is that the existing policies should be enforced strongly. Specifically, private schools should be categorized as per the regulations to allow them to charge fees based on the facilities they are providing. In many cases, there are evidences that suggest poor status of
policy enforcement in many areas within the sector. Therefore, there is a strong need to implement policies to avert unintended consequences in the upcoming days.
The other urgent need is that private school operators should genuinely cooperate and abide by those regulations. In the past, they have been a bit resistant to comply with the existing regulatory frameworks. Such acts of school operators are likely to create negative impression towards them in society.
Finally, the role of the state should be clear towards private education in terms of the extent to which they should be regulated. In the name of regulation, it is impossible to have complete control in the present context while they can hardly be left unrestricted either.
So, the most appropriate way ahead is to seek a balance between the two extremes. The middle path has to be explored, asserted and adopted aptly for the best of private education and country ahead.
A version of this article appears in print on January 14, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.