The government has ordered international schools in Thailand to maintain or lower tuition fees for the current school year in order to help families during the pandemic.
At least one prominent school has quietly raised fees while hiding it through a major fee structure makeover – rendering the government orders toothless.
In early September, news broke that two well known international schools in Thailand had attempted to raise their fees for the current school year.
This was heavily rebuked by the government, which even threatened to revoke the licenses for the schools, effectively shutting them down unless the two schools withdrew on their plans.
The government’s decision was part of a wider program to support families with school age children affected by COVID containment measures, including a recommendation for international schools to either freeze or lower school fees compared to last year.
Circumventing government orders
An investigation by TIS Monitor reveals that at least one international school in Thailand, different from the two mentioned above, has managed to increase the costs for studying at the school for the new school year by making major changes to the fee structure. While tuition fees have been lowered for some grades, other fees associated with studying at the school have increased, making the school overall more expensive compared to last school year.
The school has been able to hide these changes by deleting the previous school year’s fee structure from its website, thus removing the data needed to compare the fees for the two school years.
Dr Anders Engvall is head of research at TIS Monitor.
”By increasing the cost for studying at the school using a stealth method, the government order to maintain or lower fees becomes less effective,” he says.
Past year’s fees removed
TIS Monitor tracks fees for around 130 international schools in Thailand and collects fee data for analysis.
Most of these schools publish their fees online but only for the current school year. Very few schools publish future fees, and even fewer publish historical fees, the fee structures for the past few years.
Typically, the fee structure is published as a pdf-file that can be downloaded. For every new school year, the pdf-file is replaced with the new one, meaning that the previous one is gone.
Families doing research for choosing a school have no idea about the school’s history of raising fees, nor if the fee structure has been changed for whatever reason. This is putting families in a precarious situation vis-à-vis the school and makes it difficult for them to make informed decisions. After all, enrolling a child in an international school comes with a certain commitment that could last for up to 12 or even 15 years if kindergarten is included. Enrollment fees and the child’s bonding with friends and teachers would make parents hesitate before changing school.
Major fee structure makeover
The school analyzed by TIS Monitor operates under a very prominent name and is located in Bangkok.
When TIS Monitor analyzes the school’s new fee structure for 2021/22 and compares it with the fee structure for 2020/21, it turns out that enrolling and putting a child through grades 1 to 6 is now almost 250,000 baht more expensive. If kindergarten Pre-K 4 is included, the difference in costs increases to more than 300,000 baht.
While tuition fees for school year 2021/22 have been lowered for every grade from Pre-K 2 to Grade 1, and increased for grades 2 to 6, changes to other fees associated with studying at the school have also been made.
What used to be a one-time and fully refundable payment into a Campus Development Fund has now been replaced with a Campus Development Fee to be paid every semester on top of the tuition fee. Also, meals and snacks that used to be included in the tuition fee have for some grades turned into a separate additional fee.
Even though the one-time registration fee has been cut in half, the school is now more expensive for families putting their kids through a comparable six-year period.
During an initial contact with TIS Monitor, a senior official at the school flatly denies that fees have increased.
”That is not correct,” the person says, later adding: ”If you ballpark it and just glanced at them, some of them are slightly higher and some of them are slightly lower.”
When TIS Monitor in a follow-up email presented our detailed calculations showing that the school is now more expensive, the official initially hinted at the data being incorrect and later stopped answering emails altogether.
Shortcoming of parents’ rights
Apart from showing how easily international schools in Thailand can circumvent government orders to not increase their costs, it reveals something else about the international school industry: the lack of transparency and the shortcoming of parents’ rights.
International schools in Thailand are regulated under the Private School Act with regulatory powers given to the Office of Private Education Commission (OPEC), an agency under the Ministry of Education.
The Act only very vaguely regulates fees, primarily by saying that the fees shall be announced in an open area. Nothing is mentioned about future or past fees, giving a significant advantage to schools over the families.
”It is important to stress that the school analyzed has done nothing wrong according to the regulation as far as TIS Monitor can tell. One can however ask how family-friendly the approach of quietly raising fees through fee structure changes really is,” Dr Engvall says, and concludes:
”If Thailand wants to promote itself as a destination for international families seeking a good education for their children, regulators really need to start taking parents’ rights into account.”
Note from the editor: TIS Monitor has chosen not to publish the school’s name as our purpose is to highlight general problems. We continue to track international schools in Thailand in detail, with an emphasis on educational quality and costs. Hidden fee increases is a focus of our research and TIS Monitor will continue to expose this practice.