As the country prepares for the full reopening of this year’s school calendar for primary and secondary schools, the ministry of Education and Sports has set out to have the school fees regulations approved by cabinet and eventually implemented.
This is in response to the statutory requirement contained in Sections 3 and 57 of the Education Act, 2008 that requires the minister responsible for education from time to time to issue statutory instruments for purposes of regulating school fees, among others.
It should be noted that since the enactment of the Education Act, 2008, it is the first time the minister in charge of education is making efforts to issue a statutory instrument despite the many challenges that would require the invoking of such powers.
Every academic year, parents witness the burden of unjust hikes in school fees. The action by the minister follows endless cries by parents over the exorbitant tuition and non-tuition fees and other requirements in schools and struggles by civil society organizations - particularly, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) through petitioning, first the Parliament of Uganda in 2017, and then the High court in 2022 to compel the Education minister to perform her statutory mandate of regulating fees.
The submission of the draft School Fees Regulations to cabinet for approval has enlisted a lot of public debate. For instance, the proprietors of private schools and the government-aided schools that are not implementing Universal Primary and Secondary Education (UPE and USE) have vehemently rejected the draft regulations by the minister of Education.
The objections, especially by the owners of private schools, have been based on the assumption that once passed, the regulations will affect their return on investment and push them out of business.
For many years, the requirements by the schools have become questionable as to whether education institutions are construction companies, supermarkets, health facilities or stationery shops. Many schools require learners to report with all sorts of requirements: bags of cement, spades, dozens of toilet paper, reams of paper, first aid materials, etc.
All this serves to undermine the integrity and sanctity of education as a public good. The opening up of the education sector to allow private actors to participate in the delivery of education does not strip it of its character as a common good, which cannot be left to the whims of the market.
Objective XVIII of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995, as amended, is to the effect that the involvement of the private sector in the provision of education is premised on their compliance with the established education standards by the government.
The government has all the powers to ensure that the private involvement in education provision does not negatively impact the right to education.
This is not the first time for government to regulate school fees in Uganda. During Obote II government, school fees were regulated. Statutory instruments such as the Education (Primary School Fees) Regulations SI – 127 – 5 and Education (Post-primary Institutions School Fees) Regulations SI – 127 – 6, provided for regulation of fees in primary and secondary schools respectively.
Uganda will not be the only country regulating school fees. Other countries like Rwanda and Namibia, among others, have taken steps to regulate fees, including for private schools. In Rwanda, for instance, there is a cap on fees for day scholar students in public and government-aided schools - and those in boarding schools.
On the other hand, private schools can only charge fees in accordance with the inputs from parents’ general assembly. In Namibia, private schools must provide information on all their fees and conditions of payment upon registration - and schools are not allowed to change their fees without informing the ministry.
Over the years, the Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics has consistently reported that the high cost of education is the major contributor to school dropout. With the recent UNHS of 2019/ 20 reporting that 67.7 per cent boys and 62.1 per cent girls that drop out of schools is attributed to the unaffordability of education.
This calls upon the government of Uganda to make efforts to ensure that there is access to quality and affordable education, and regulation of fees is one of the ways to achieve this. The ministry is, therefore, justified to develop and implement school fees regulations covering all schools in the country.
Program manager, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER)