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Sunday, May 16, 2021

South Africa: Parents feel the pinch with school fees rising by 8%

Athina May

Above inflation school-fee increases for next year will see many parents struggling to pay and relying on the state to meet the shortfall.

Tough economic times are seeing schools raising fees by up to 8% because of non-paying parents.

Schools such as Harold Cressy High received less than 50% on school fee returns this year due to subsidised pupils and are still struggling to recuperate fees from parents, who may face debt collectors before the festive season begins.

Harold Cressy principal Khalied Isaacs said that at their school under 50% of pupils were paying fees and the rest of their pupils paid partial fees or were subsidised, yet the school still struggled to recuperate fees from paying parents.

“Our biggest challenge is getting parents to come in and talk to us and make arrangements. We want to step up with regards to that because we end up with a situation where parents don’t pay all year and don’t answer calls, that’s the parents we end up having to hand over to debt collectors.”

Gardens Commercial High principal Dylan Tommy said they had a shortfall in the collection of fees.

“Last year close to 60 (pupils) got subsidised and we should’ve got R500000 from those parents (in fees), but we got R60000 (by the department) to make up for the half million. At least it’s something some other schools got nothing.

“This year we’ll have a 5% increase and we’ll try to assist parents as far as possible.

“Some are paying double for this year’s fees and next year. Some Grade 12’s leave the school and their parents go on paying.”

Bergvliet High School principal Stephen Price said fees would be pushed up by 7.98% to approximately R31900 a year, to make up for the shortfall in funds to run the school, as money supplied by the department was often not enough to cover school expenses for the year.

Price said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) paid the school approximately R150000 to operate, apart from teachers salaries, which could cover expenses for up to three months, which was why the school developed innovative solutions, such as fund-raising, to bring in additional income.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Education specialist Dr Andrea Juan said schools were in a difficult situation because they had to balance education with who could afford it, leaving principals to become fund-raisers, which increases their job load.

“Raising school fees is essential for schools to maintain standards,” she said. “Principals come up with innovative ways because they can’t rely on government as the money is not enough.

“The new way of running schools places a lot on principals who have a completely different role as fund-raisers.

“Policy is not explicit on raising funds, but the burden is there and principals operate as the standard bearer of maintaining excellence.” Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said tough economic times were leading to a growing number of parents who could not pay fees, putting strain on fee collection for daily running costs.

However, the WCED is trying to step in by compensating 97% of fee-paying schools. Schäfer warned that parents who were able to pay fees and refused to do so could see legal action being taken against them by schools.

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