St Andrews and Ruamrudee international schools have been ordered by the Thai government to reverse their planned fee increases for the 2021-22 school year. This comes after the government rolled out measures to support families affected by the shift to online schooling during the COVID crisis.
As there are several schools in Bangkok operating under the name ”St Andrews”, staff at the Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC), the regulatory authority for international schools in Thailand, confirms to TIS Monitor that the targeted school is St Andrews NAE Sukhumvit 71.
At the time of writing, the school has not yet presented its fees for the school year 2021-22 on its website, despite the school year having already started.
The government recommended the schools to reconsider their planned fee increases in a first round of letters in July. In a strongly worded second round of letters sent to the schools now in September, and published by several Thai media outlets including prominent business newspaper Prachachat Thurakit, the government rejected the schools’ rationale for justifying planned fee increases.
Minister of Education, Trinuch Thienthong, uses the power under section 34 of the 2007 Private School Act to issue an order to lower the planned new school fees of the two schools. The order demands that fees for the 2021 school year shall be no higher than the previous school year for the students. Any price increases cannot affect existing students.
Prepared to revoke licenses
In a strongly worded statement accompanying the letters ordering the schools to stop fee increases, Mr Attapon Truektrong, Secretary General of OPEC, in an interview with Khao Sod newspaper declared that the government is ready to take harsh measures to enforce their freeze on fees. Unless the two schools backtrack on their intention to raise their fees, the government may order the schools to temporarily halt their operations or even permanently revoke their licenses and thus force the schools to shut down.
The action directed at the two international schools comes after a July 27 Ministerial Cabinet decision to roll out a program to support families with school age children affected by COVID containment measures. The four-part program includes both direct cash payments to parents as well as support to schools for lowering fees:
- A one-time THB 2,000 cash payment to families with children in schools.
- A recommendation for private schools that do not receive government subsidies to refrain from any fee increases.
- An order for public schools to use funding freed up from school closures to address learning gaps and learning loss brought about by the need to shift to online schooling.
- Training and income generation programs targeting parents whose income opportunities have been affected by the shift to online schooling.
Most International schools adhered to the recommendation to freeze or lower school fees. According to the letter from the minister of education, the two schools targeted in the government order choose to prioritize their finances, leading the government to take action under existing legal provisions rarely used in the past.
Change in government policy
Dr Anders Engvall is a senior analyst at TIS Monitor.
”This is a change as Thai policy makers usually take the side of school owners rather than the interest of families,” he says.
The closure of school campuses and shift to online schooling as part of the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 has had a major impact on the finances of private schools in Thailand. Prachachat Thurakit estimates that extended online schooling could lead to the permanent closure of up to half of the country’s 2,000 private schools.
”This action from the government addresses the considerable uncertainty about future tuition fees faced by families enrolling their children in Thai international schools,” Dr Anders Engvall says, and concludes:
”This is a strong signal from the Thai government that it is not acceptable to continue to increase fees during these difficult economic circumstances and the shift to online schooling brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains to be seen if this will lead to a more permanent shift in government policies towards international schools. In the past there has not been any action to limit fee increases, leaving families with few options other than withdrawing their children from schools that raise fees year after year”.
Update: On Sept 13, two days after this article is published and almost four weeks into the new school year, St Andrews NAE Sukhumvit 71, finally publishes its fees for 2021-22 on its website.