A well-known international school in Bangkok took a parent to court after a dispute over a fee hike.
”Don’t be scared of going to court if you have an issue with your school,” the parent says, after having reached a settlement with the school.
Many international schools in Thailand have no limits to how much tuition fees can increase every year. Most schools are run as for-profit businesses, seeking to maximize their earnings. While some schools have vague information on their websites that they will try not to increase fees by more than a certain percent, schools can increase fees as long as the parents accept it.
One father didn’t, but the school then responded with a lawsuit.
As this parent’s final settlement with the school includes a non-disclosure agreement, TIS Monitor will not publish the name of the parent or the school.
The parent, who describes himself as a Thai businessman, is willing to share his story with TIS Monitor. He encourages other parents to not be afraid to challenge their children’s international school if they feel they have been treated unfairly, even if it means going to court.
”If you do business you have to be fair. Parents need to be able to know the tuition fees in advance,” this father says.
Unexpected fee increases
A few years back, this family enrolled their two children in a well-known large international school in Bangkok. All went well for many years until suddenly one year the tuition fee increased by an unexpected 8%. This was repeated the next year, and then once more the following year.
But it wasn’t only the increased fee that made the father react, it was also how it was done.
”The school announced the fee increase during the very last days of the school year, even after having asked who would remain and who would leave, and even after having conducted the yearly quality survey among the parents. This was so unfair,” the father says.
He went to speak with the school headmaster many times, a man he had previously admired for the way he was running the school.
“I asked the headmaster to explain the 8% increase and I was told it was to pay for teachers’ increased salaries, but when I asked the teachers I was told they only got a 2.8% increase. So the headmaster was lying to me. He was using teachers as an excuse. It was all about profits,” the father says.
Now the family was starting to think about moving their children to another school. The father went to see the headmaster again to question the cycle of fee increases but was now met with a cold shoulder.
”The headmaster told me: ’It’s like the Bangkok expressway. You take it every day and pay 40 baht. If the fee increases to 50 baht and you are not happy, don’t take the expressway’. So I told him I won’t take the expressway,” the father says.
Paid less than asked
He decided to move his two children to another school in Bangkok, but there was still one trimester left before the end of the school year. As an act of protest against what he regarded as an unreasonable and unfair fee hike, he decided to only pay half of the last trimester’s tuition fee. Instead of paying the asked 400,000 baht for two children, he paid only 200,000 baht.
Sometime later, he says that he received a call from the school’s finance department and was asked to pay the remaining balance of 200,000 baht.
”I said no. I told them that I had enrolled my kids in this school because it was a really good school and that the headmaster was great and that I believed in him. But we had problems as tuition fees kept increasing in an unexpected way. It always came as a surprise. It was unfair. So I was protesting by not paying full fees for the last trimester,” he says.
After that the school went quiet. The family moved the children to another international school and expected to never again hear from the previous school. But they were wrong. The previous school did get back – in the shape of a lawsuit.
”After more than a year, I suddenly received a court summons. I was asked to come to court on August 16 this year to meet with a representative from the school in front of the judge for a pre-trial hearing to see if we could reach a settlement,” the father said.
Here he was asked by the judge to explain the situation, which he did.
”So the judge said: ’Ok, I understand, how much do you want to pay today?’ And I said: ’To make things simple and not to waste the judge’s time, I will pay another 100,000’,” he says.
The judge then turned to the school’s lawyer, who accepted the offer after having it confirmed by the school.
And that was it. In the end, the father paid 300,000 baht out of the 400,000 baht asked for the last trimester. No interest or punitive fees were added. The father also says that he didn’t even bother to bring his own lawyer as the case was ”too simple”.
”Schools need to be fair”
Now he wants to share his experience with other parents in Thailand who have children at international schools.
”The lesson here is that parents should not be scared of going to court if they have an issue with their children’s school. Just be prepared, be honest and state the facts,” he says, and concludes:
”If the school is fair with the parents, the parents will be fair with the school. That wasn’t the case here.”
Dr. Anders Engvall is a senior analyst and commentator with TIS Monitor. He says that this case is very interesting because it shows the reality of the business perspective of the international school sector in Thailand, and it is also something parents rarely hear about.
”Look at the websites of international schools in Thailand. They are full of photos of smiling, happy children, and families are promised a good education for their kids if they enroll. It is easy to forget that many of these schools are profit-making enterprises and that it is up to the parents to protect the rights of them and their children once they have signed up,” he says, and continues:
“This also shows that some schools are willing to put pressure on families to accept fee increases, as they know that many parents are reluctant to change schools as it might affect the wellbeing of their children.”
Note from the editor: TIS Monitor is unable to independently verify this father’s claim. However, many other parents have confirmed to TIS Monitor that this particular international school did indeed raise the tuition fee substantially over the course of a few years. As a result, many families known to TIS Monitor decided to leave.