Long before the coronavirus pandemic, college costs had already entered unprecedented territory. According to a study by Broke Scholar, the average cost of tuition and fees — in inflation-adjusted dollars — at both private and public schools has more than tripled from the academic year 1971-72 to 2019-2020.
- In 1971-72, average tuition and fees at a private nonprofit four-year institution cost $11,540 in 2019 dollars. For the 2019-20 academic year, the current average cost is $36,880 for tuition and fees: an increase of 220%.
- In 1971-72, average tuition and fees at a public four-year institution cost $2,710 in 2019 dollars. For the 2019-20 academic year, the current average cost is $7,730: an increase of 285%, which means it nearly quadrupled.
Thus, the costs associated with attending a college or university were already moving in an unfavourable direction for the average American household. But throwing the COVID-19 pandemic into the equation is now presenting a multitude of issues that could accelerate this trend or send it off into erratic directions. On the other side of the equation, the colleges are facing troubling financial straits due to the disruption in tuition, fees and on-campus life.
“When it comes to higher education institutions, the pandemic has had — and will continue to have — a drastic financial impact. Institutions are suffering from lost revenue to partial tuition refunds, room and board, fees, etc.,” said Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage. “For example, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 universities, including the first HBCU (historically black college and university) of Cheyney University, and 17,000-student West Chester University, is projecting a $100 million loss from room and board and other fees. And the University of Wisconsin at Madison is estimating a $100 million loss due to COVID-19 impacts, which does not include potential lost revenue from lower enrolment in the fall. While a select few institutions have large endowments to help them navigate through this unprecedented period, the majority do not.”
PARENTS FROM DIFFERENT STATES MOVES SC SEEKING MORATORIUM ON SCHOOL FEES FOR LOCKDOWN PERIOD
A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court by the parents of children from different States seeking declaration of moratorium or deferment of payment of school fees during the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
The plea also seeks direction to Centre and all the States for directing all the private unaided/aided schools to only charge the proportionate fees based on actual expenditure towards the conduct of the online virtual classes and no other fees from the students since April 1 till the commencement of physical classes.
“The Petitioners belonging to different states of the country have come together being constrained to approach this Court seeking inter alia the protection of fundamental right to life as well as education guaranteed under the Constitution of India, 1950 which the children & students enrolled up to the Class XII of various Indian states are being deprived of due to supervening factors namely, the ongoing pandemic- COVID-19 period,” the plea said.
It said that due to COVID-19 induced lockdown, financially incapacitated parents have to bear the brunt of the fees of the children, even after being faced with constant financial and emotional hardships which may leave a few of them with no option but to withdraw their children or students from seeking institutional/school education for an unforeseeable period of time.
“The Petitioners are also aggrieved apart from other issues as raised in the present petition by the unorganised and adversely influencing education imparted in the name of online classes, without addressing the supervening factors of incapacity of 25 per cent EWS category students, adverse impact of education of children of unregulated online education for students of Standard Nursery to 5th and for other students as well,” the plea said.
The parents through the petition filed through advocate Mayank Kshirsagar and drawn by advocate Pankhuri said that they are highlighting various factors leading to creation of hostile discrimination of children and parents of various states in India as some protection may be available for children or students in some states and the same may not be available in other states.
Parents of the school going children who have moved the top court hail from Rajasthan, Odisha, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Maharashtra.
In their plea they said that considering the adverse impact of online education, ban has been imposed by Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh while other States have not considered its impact.
It said that after COVID-19 disease was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, on March 25, 2020, a country wide lockdown was announced whereby all the activities including the educational sector were shut down completely having a catastrophic effect over the economy of the country with many people losing their jobs or getting a deducted or nil income and facing immense sufferings in their daily life.
“The school going children and students were unable to attend the physical classes at their respective schools. Some of the private aided/unaided schools made arrangements for online classes in April, 2020 however the same has not been universally made available and even cases where no online classes are being conducted the schools are charging normal fees and rather some schools have hiked the fees,” the plea said.
It added that many of the schools hiked their fees and/or started harassing the students’ parents to pay the entire quarterly fees in advance despite the non-functioning of the schools and the students not availing any of the services provided by the schools.
The petition said that despite circulars issued by various States asking private aided/unaided schools ought not to hike their fees in the times of the pandemic, no substantial relief in the form of waiver of fees, or reduced fees, or proportionate fees as per actual expenditure etc. was granted to the students in most of the states, leaving their parents with a huge financial burden to bear, impliedly resulting in the student’s right to life and education getting infringed and violated.
“It is further noteworthy that no specific provision/direction was issued by various states as mentioned with regard to the 25 per cent economically and socially backward/weaker students under the RTE Act, 2009,” it said.
The plea sought directions to Centre and all the States for directing all the private unaided/aided schools to not charge any fees whatsoever from the enrolled students of such schools for a period of three months starting from April 1 till July 1 or till the commencement of offline/physical school classes.
It also sought directions to Centre and all the States for directing schools to only charge the proportionate fees based on actual expenditure towards the conduct of the online virtual classes and no other fees whatsoever from the enrolled students of such schools since April 1 till the commencement of offline/physical school classes.
The petition said that direction be issued to schools to only charge the ‘tuition fees’ and no other fees whatsoever from the enrolled students since April 1 till physical classes resumes.
IMPACT OF THE SCHOOL FEE PAYMENT PROBLEM ON TEACHING STAFF
However, while there is uninterrupted dissemination of education services provided by our valiant teaching staff despite awaiting their dues, their sacrifices along with the non-teaching staff must be appreciated.
It must also be noted that these teachers who are going beyond the call of duty are solely dependent on their salaries for their livelihood.
There are an approximate 5 Crore teaching and non-teaching staff employed in over two Lakh schools across India who are hoping that parents come forward at the time of crisis so that salaries can be paid to the staffers.
Here, the government and parents should ensure teachers’ concerns are considered by releasing adequate funds as an immediate resort which will help reduce the financial strain on them.
The government, state bodies, education boards, financial and educational institutions, and parents should jointly formulate a mechanism to make sure that academics and institutions don’t come to a grinding halt or a closure due to paucity of funds.
HERE ARE THREE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE TO SOLVE THE SCHOOL FEE PAYMENT ISSUE DURING LOCKDOWN
1. Providing interest-free loans to parents to pay fees as education is a part of the priority lending sector
This will ensure that no pillar of India’s growth will be compromised due to dearth of funds.
While RBI has on numerous occasions infused stimulus packages in our economy, this would be the first time the Central Bank can issue loans with zero interest and also provide relaxation in payment tenure for schools and higher education fees.
2. Interest-free loans should be extended to schools to pay salaries
The past decade has witnessed many sectors benefiting from the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank of India to prevent collapse of business and these sops have helped these sectors revive their growth story.
While education is part of a priority lending sector, granting them interest-free loans to pay fees for crore of teaching and non-teaching staff would immensely help them and also reduce the burden of the parents who are obligated to pay timely fees.
This would also help conduct urgent repairs in schools to prepare them for the resumption of the academic year post-pandemic.
3. Provide subsidies for school bus operators due to drop in oil prices
The world has witnessed a slump in the oil market and while it is important for India to adjust costs owing to the pandemic by keeping a check on the excise rates and taxes on petroleum products.
Citing the present state of affairs, the government should also look into certain tax breaks or subsidies to aid these operators. This will have a direct bearing on the economics of every parent who are sending their children to school.