DAVID MAFABI: Why Uganda government might never regulate school fees

David Mafabi, a veteran journalist (PHOTO/Courtesy)

David Mafabi, a veteran journalist (PHOTO/Courtesy)

MBALE —Tuition fee increments are now normal every term in every school across the country; this is despite repeated and loud government warnings against any unauthorized school fees increments.

It is clear that the state’s surrendering of the delivery of quality education to a private sector that auctions it to the highest payer is exacerbating class divide in the country.

This term alone many families have had to painfully relocate their children from better-performing schools that charge more than they can afford to relatively cheaper schools that post less-than-satisfactory academic results.

Surprisingly, most schools ignore the warnings because no stern disciplinary action is taken. There are no license or registration certificate cancellations to punish errant school proprietors.

Government warnings to schools not to increase tuition fees in schools fell on a deaf ear especially in privately owned schools this is due to the rising cost of living.

This is also due to the fact that the government does not own privately owned schools, does not fund anything in these schools save for Universal Primary and Secondary Education.

And for your information, the privately owned schools cannot be subjected to such limitations as they have to pay for everything from chalk to paying teachers’ salaries, taxes, water, food and electricity bills among others.

The government’s warning to schools to desist from increasing schools fees in order to help parents recover from the lock down constraints has not impacted on the privately owned schools of even the so called ‘big schools’ across the country.

Today, government is still singing the same song with the same chorus. Sections 3 and 57 of the Education Act, 2008 requiring the minister responsible for education to issue statutory instruments from time to time for purposes of regulating school fees, among others are two toothless ambiguous laws.

These two sections are meant to help the ministry of education regulate school fees in government aided schools especially those under the universal primary and secondary education.

This was done to control schools from keeping away children and students who cannot afford high schools fees and the corresponding requirements; this is supposed to affect only schools aided and funded by government unlike the privately owned.

The education act, 2008 defines a “private school” to mean a school that is not founded by government and which does not receive statutory grants from government.

And for private schools to survive, they must come up with a projection for the term including profits and throw the burden at the parents. Those who can;t afford their school fees structure have to find alternative schools commensurate to the size of their ability.

If government wanted to remain relevant in education/ schools, it should have stayed privatisation of schools across the country but now they are behaving like a man who sells off his commodities in a shop for good will and at the same time comes back to instruct the owner on the prices of the commodities in the shop he sold off.

This reminds me of the local Bugisu traditional proverb that says ‘A Madman, who throws a stone into a crowded market, forgets that his own mother could be hit by his madness,’

Today, we are living in times of every man for himself and God for us all. You want your child to excel in his or her studies, feed well and sleep well, the secret lies in the size of your pocket.

No one should accept the lies being peddled that the government will at one time fix a lower and up limit on school fees in private schools unless it revisits the privatisation strategy.

This is a rude reminder to all of you out there as a secret “Please most of the sounding high end schools belong to the big boys in government starting with ministers, directors, commissioners, high ranking police and army officers among others who have a say on how certain sectors are managed,’.

Our technocrats at the ministry of Education are all aware deep inside them, the owners of these schools are untouchable as they know the government has no legal mandate, ability capacity leave alone political will to regulate school fees in this country.

And all they do is to massage the pain of the common Ugandan that they care. I mean if the government cannot enforce closing and opening of new terms, where do they get the muscle enforce or regulate schools fees.

Section 57(g) of the education Act which empowers the minister of education by way of a statutory instrument to regulate schools fees payable at any school is redundant. A deeper reading of that section enjoins the use of the “word” may as opposed to “shall” connotes to nothing but dull discretionary law, its optional for the Minister to act as he/she pleases.

Most of the private schools have been charging schools fees according to the prevailing economic condition with minimal input from parents.

And at the end of the process, they only write to the ministry of education justifying their decision. If a meeting has been convened with the parents who pay school fees and it is agreed that the fees be increased, how can a government say no more so when it is a private school. The ministry of education cannot develop and implement school fees regulations covering all schools in the country in a blanket manner.

I want you to look at this; the government of Uganda does not have any establishment with the title “international school. This is reserved for the private investors to provide some kinds of an internationally acceptable curriculum to mainly foreigners and the wealthy.

This alone means that the government cannot even place a lower and upper limit on the fees. Infact many are charging as much as US Dollars 6000 without any one asking questions.

Good education in Uganda is a preserve of a few who can afford and this underscores the thinking that education as a public good since the fees payable are determined by the academic performance of that school and forces of demand and supply.

Any modesty private school will charge schools fees and also demand for a number of requirements that must be bought from school. Some even ask for development fund as is the case with public schools, you even wonder what they are developing.

The current Education Minister Janet Kataha Museveni is on record for having informed Ugandans that her Ministry had finalized drafting a statutory instrument that was intended to regulate school fees.

“My Ministry will soon be embarking on the process of consulting the various stakeholders about the statutory instrument that we have drafted to regulate school fees and other charges in our education institutions of learning,” To the Minister, the outcome would help them better regulate school fees and school charges.

The parents’ cries come following what the ministry described as a “national outcry on school fees” and the constitution of a committee in 2016 to investigate concerns about fees in various educational institutions. The Prof Frederick Ian Kayanja-led committee came up with recommendations, which were shelved to date.

I have also seen top education ministry officials getting a statutory instrument from Section 7 of the 2008 Education Act, which gives the ministry leeway to regulate fees in the sector. The ministry at one time was trying to formulate a policy for private schools but struggled to find a legal basis and to date nothing has come out.

A new draft statutory instrument on fees cared in schools seen by this reporter issues regulations and penalties for offenders. For instance, a school owner who levies fees above the prescribed cap commits an offense and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding fifty currency points (Shs 1 million) or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both.

The instrument adds that the fees cap for all schools, other than government grant-aided, shall be as follows; pre-primary: Shs 690,000; primary: Shs 570,000 (day); and Shs 1,220,000 (boarding), secondary and vocational institutions, Shs 960,000 (day) and Shs 1,610, 000 (boarding). Furthermore, the education ministry has not regulated international schools that charge up to Shs 25 million per semester.

And I want to state that this instrument will be challenged at all levels because; they have set up a fee cap, but have not regulated the key drivers of the fee hikes like food prices, electricity, water, and transport, among others, that keep fluctuating.

And government has forgotten that whenever inflation hits the economy, they will have review the document? It is not an easy thing.

This policy may lie as a redundant law on private schools and may also be deemed hugely unenforceable due to its frivolous and vexatious nature as it lacks all the merits of a good law.

Truth be told that the Ministry is hiding away from the public but there is no regulatory framework for regulating fees in all schools.


And even the statutory instrument when signed by the Minister of education will have no legal effect and will not change the status quo. Before we know it there will be a cabinet reshuffle that will transfer the current Minister to another docket and her promises will not be implemented.

It is only the forces of demand and supply that can force private schools to bring down their fees if government only well-facilitated its schools, equipped them and monitored them well for better performance.

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