Wednesday,  Jun 26, 2019,02:52 (GMT+7) 0 0
Behind the glee of no tuition fee
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Sep 20, 2018,19:30 (GMT+7)

Behind the glee of no tuition fee

By Son Nguyen

It comes as good news for many parents in HCMC when the municipal government says all children at public schools will be exempted from tuition fees up to the ninth grade, effective from this school year. For poor families, the tentative scheme is a big sigh of relief, which as described by local media shows the humanitarian policy towards the city’s citizenry.

However, there remain big worries over whether the tuition fee exemption policy will really ease the financial burden on the poor.

As widely covered in local media, Nguyen Thien Nhan, secretary of the HCMC Party Committee, has instructed relevant agencies to map out a plan to drop the tuition fee collection for children from pre-school to junior high-school. Nguyen Thi Thu, vice chairwoman of the city government, says in Nguoi Lao Dong that the city last Wednesday sent a proposal to the Ministry of Finance to seek approval for the scheme. Once it is passed, the scheme will be submitted to the municipal People’s Council as a regulatory step before implementation.

“The tuition fee exemption policy will be a precious gift, which is of high spiritual and material value for the people. It will open up schooling opportunities for more children, and ease the financial burden for many families,” comments Sai Gon Giai Phong.

Under prevailing regulations, a monthly tuition fee of VND100,000, or less than US$4, is collected from students in inner-city districts in HCMC, while those in outlying districts pay VND85,000 a month. Last year, the total sum of tuition fee in the city was VND351 billion, a sum that can be compensated for from other sources, Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reports, citing the city’s Department of Finance.

For a city with daily budget revenue of roughly VND1,000 billion, that total sum of tuition fee collection is insignificant, says Sai Gon Giai Phong.

In fact, the move to drop tuition fees for students from pre-school to junior high school level is being mulled as a national policy, and HCMC is just the first locality in the country to make a concrete step.

The central Government in its July meeting mentioned this policy. Most recently, Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha on behalf of the Government submitted a report on September 12 to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee to seek comments on the draft amendments to the Education Law, which also mentions this tuition fee exemption, Sai Gon Giai Phong reports.

The ministry will have to arrange VND4,730 billion from other sources to make up for the capital shortfall due to the planned tuition fee exemption, but Minister Nha asserts in Lao Dong that such a sum can be easily balanced. In reality, the sum is also quite modest compared to the annual budget allocated for the education sector, at just some 2% of over VND215 trillion in 2017 and over VND229 trillion this year, according to the newspaper.

Lowering tuition fees would benefit over five million children in the country a year, and will help mobilize more children in this group age to school, the news site reports, citing the education minister. Le Thi Ngoc Nhan, vice head of HCMC-based Nam Viet Education Science Institute, says in the news site that the move to exempt tuition fees is a progressive one, and is a common trend in the world. If children cannot attend school due to the tuition fee, the social implications in the future would be serious, she remarks.

Vice chairman of the National Assembly Uong Chu Luu expressly supports the policy, saying on Lao Dong Online that the Constitution specifies compulsory education up to the junior high-school level, and compulsory education means free education. The task now is how to consider appropriations to implement the policy, he is quoted by the online paper.

While the tentative policy on tuition fee exemption heaps praise, many wonder if such an imminent move is of real significance now that at many schools, numerous non-fee collections are being forced on parents, which are the real financial burden for many.

The exemption is only meaningful if the total sum payable to the school for the whole school year does not increase, Thanh Nien reports, citing a parent named Bui Thi Thu Huyen in Hanoi City’s Dong Da District.

Many schools have different ways to ask for money from the student’s family, which normally amounts to millions of Vietnam dong a year, far outweighing the tuition fee.

The collection of unnamed funds for schools has been rampant for years, but the headmaster or the management board of the school often theatrically acts as the outsider.

According to Sai Gon Giai Phong, at many schools, the headmasters or the management boards say that apart from tuition fees, they do not have policies to raise funds from students or their parents. They say most funds contributed by parents are arranged by parent-teacher associations, and that contributions are optional. However, in reality, “all are aware that parent-teacher associations are just a fund-raising arm for the school management,” and parents find it difficult to say no to any fund-raising scheme by the associations.

As the tuition fee is likely to be dropped, Thanh Nien ponders whether schools will seek to increasingly tap other sources to make up for the shortfall, and whether there are regulations in place to stonewall such rampant collections.

The education ministry says it has anticipated measures to fight unregulated collections and will get tough on headmasters doing otherwise, says Lao Dong. Specifically, the ministry has issued new documents with stringent regulations on do’s and don’ts and asked all educational institutions not to collect any sums not specified in such regulations.

Such an assertion is in stark contrast with the reality, as many schools across the country may well have been mapping out plans to tap into parents’ pockets. In Haiphong City, for example, a letter calling for financial support for Nguyen Van To Elementary School in Le Chan District to improve facilities at the school for this academic year has stunned many parents. In the letter, the school management announces plans to acquire new equipment and repair existing facilities with a total cost of over VND970 million, which should be contributed by parents, according to Lao Dong.

Former Minister of Education Pham Minh Hac says in Lao Dong that tough punitive measures must be taken against any headmasters, if the tuition fee exemption policy is to be of any significance. Otherwise, worries remain for parents, despite the glee of the tuition fee exception policy.

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