Need for Independent Fee Committees for Gurgaon Schools
Recently, in an audit of accounts of nine private schools in Gurgaon “under radar”, six were directed not to undertake a fee hike this year given the fact that there was surplus funds lying in their accounts. Commissioned in 2015, the audit was conducted by the Fee and Fund Regulatory Committee under the Gurgaon Administration.
Having been one of the three Parent Representatives in a School Management Committee (SMC) of a prominent private school for the last academic year, I have a few observations to make. These observations are both with respect to reforms in the laws under which schools are governed as well as also to do with what most schools are doing as an interpretation of these laws.
For schools under CBSE, the SMC decides on the issue of fee-hike. Just like Company Boards have independent directors to foster neutrality and fairness, we need to have greater independence and diversity in the SMC. The independent members need to be officials from the local government, from NGOs or educationist that are not working as consultants to the school. The SMC should not meet unless such members have been appointed. Otherwise, SMC just comprise of senior school management and parent representatives, both with “vested interests”. The School given the inflationary trends, infrastructural needs, staff salary hikes would always want to escalate the fee to a comfortable level. Parents would ideally like that the school continues to provide the same level of quality service at the same costs. The “vested” interests will make the fee hike decision a logjam. So first and foremost, schools that have not filled in “outside” members, must please do so with greater urgency.
Besides, parents on the SMC are not qualified financial experts who can analyse the audited results of the school or the trust that it runs under and then also calculate, based on the financials, what should be a “just” fee-hike. There are no benchmarks or studies on it, and in case there are, the SMC members should be exposed to these course materials.
To circumvent this problem, I propose that an “independent regulatory fee committee” should be set up within each school that comprise of people of high repute in the government and industry. The school should make a proposal of fee hike to the committee, given all the costs it is likely to incur in the coming year and also submit its financial details of the previous year. The parents should also be independently heard by the Committee. The Committee could also seek opinion from other stakeholders and experts. Based on this, the Committee should recommend a fee hike that should be approved and ratified by the SMC. Only if there are issues with the decision of the fee committee, should the matter go to an appellate body in the state government.
In this way, the SMC can focus on other academic and strategic matters of the school and get quality inputs from parent members, and not get stuck on the issue of fee hike. By doing so, SMC could also meet more often than just the two times that it does as mandated as under the CBSE laws. This will remove a lot of ad-hocism and arbitrariness in fee-hikes; otherwise in schools where parents are vigilant or vocal or where school management is ethical, hikes would be just while others may continue to work on arbitrary lines.
My last remark would be that an “us-vs-them” approach both from the school and parents’ side, is counter-productive. Let the experts decide the fee-hikes and let the schools focus on what they should be doing, providing quality education.