On the issue of regulation of the tuition and other fees of private independent (‘unaided’) schools by state governments which has become a hot button subject lately, the stand of your editors has been clear and unambiguous. The decision to determine chargeable fees is of school promoters/management and is a contractual agreement between parents of candidate children who accept the offer of institutional managements to educate their children. The Supreme Court of India agrees. In the landmark T.M.A. Pai Foundation Case (2002), an 11-judge bench held that all citizens have a fundamental right to engage in the vocation of education and earn a reasonable surplus on their investment in education institutions.
However, implicit in the judgement is that school managements should negotiate fee increases with formal or informal parents associations. But some school promoters don’t seem to be aware of this directive implicit in the landmark T.M.A. Pai Case.
Right now the new millennium CISCE (Delhi) and IB (Geneva)-affiliated Neev Academy, Bengaluru (NAB, estb.2005) is experiencing a flight of students following unilateral imposition of a 50 percent fees hike in the new academic year beginning July. NAB is the first K-12 school promoted by Lupin Labs heiress and Harvard Business School alumna Kavita Sabharwal.
Sabharwal’s imperious “my way or the highway” decision, to steeply hike 2021-22 fees unmindful that the Covid pandemic has depressed the incomes of a substantial number of even the school’s high net worth parents, has disillusioned a minority of parents whose children were of the school’s first batch, and some of them have pulled their children out to enrol them in less pricey international schools. “Even partial scholarships are an unknown concept in this hard-headed business enterprise. However, brand names such as Gucci and Ferragamo are very well-known,” says a bitter parent who has pulled her teenage daughter out after ten years in NAB.
The learned justices of the Supreme Court chose their words with care. There is a difference between vocation and business.