NON-FEE PAYING PRIVATE SECONDARY SCHOOL CRISIS : Grants Mechanism to Colleges : « Roulette Russe » against the Temple

The contentious issue about the Comprehensive Grants Formula between the Private Secondary Education Authority (PSEA) and the non-fee paying private secondary schools, which is in the public domain since 2021, has reached now a critical point. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Hon. Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun made her intervention on the budgetary debates on 18th June at the National Assembly. Her intervention on the private secondary schools was much awaited for, as it was expected, it would clear the air and pave the way for a promising future. Unfortunately, the whole private secondary sector was taken aback by her statement which fails to recognise humbly and boldly the fundamental issue.  With all due respect, we wonder if the statement of the Minister is not a case of intentional or unintentional fallacy.

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The Federation of the Union of Managers of Private Secondary Schools will react by restating the facts. On 17 May 2024, the Federation of the Union of Managers of Private Secondary Schools convened a press conference at Le St Georges Hotel and informed the public about the massive cuts in grants to their schools. The Federation made two major appeals to the PSEA (i) to stop these cuts, (ii) to convene the ‘Consultative Committee’ on a regular basis as per the PSEA Act and not hide behind the legal proviso which states : ‘The Board may set up, on such terms and conditions as it may determine, such Consultative Committee as may be necessary in the discharge of its functions’ [para 6A (1)].

The Federation also wished that any political party engaging in the General Elections agrees to address all the shortcomings and incoherences created by successive governments in their policy decisions. As a co-opted member of SeDEC (Service Diocésain de l’Education Catholique) in the Federation, I have since then been able to work closely with the other members, make the case for private secondary schools and take public position. In the context of the pre-electoral period, I had the opportunity to accompany the delegation of the Federation and participate recently in meetings with political leaders Xavier-Luc Duval, Paul Bérenger, Nando Bodha and Roshi Bhadain. These meetings have provided key insights into our understanding of the situation.  Following talks with the political leaders, we can say the mechanism for the disbursement of the grants operates like a roulette russe.

The deadly mechanism

The mechanism for the disbursement of grants under the Comprehensive Grants Formula 2024-2026 is causing distress, annoyance and dispossession. Schools submit their budget estimates. Stringent parameters have to be complied with by schools like prior endorsement by PSEA to embark on any project, even for the purchase of chairs and the submission of three quotations for even minor items. PSEA disburses the grants ( at first it was quarterly, then two-monthly or now can be monthly). The grants have two main components namely (i) Compensation for use of premises and (ii) Variable components. After expenses have been incurred by schools from the grants, they have to submit their returns with supporting evidence of expenses. PSEA checks the receipts and sends a circular letter with remarks like ‘disallowed expenses’, ‘illegible receipts’, ‘receipts not complete’, etc. The sum total of disallowed expenses represents a substantial amount which is deducted at next disbursement. In some cases, the cut amounts to 1 million rupees. This massive cut causes an impairment in the nominal value of the grants allocated.

Therefore, this funding mechanism incapacitates these schools in their operational tasks and adversely impacts on students and staff. The PSEA disburses the grants, lets the schools spend the money and then it declares these “disallowed”. No such system exists for public funding elsewhere. It is only for these private secondary schools. The target is clear. Really, it is a roulette russe which is literally defined as a game of chance in which each player in turn spins the cylinder of a revolver loaded with only one cartridge and presses the trigger with the barrel against his / her own head. Consequently, this mechanism creates distress, annoyance and leads to dispossession with ultimately the disappearance of non-fee-paying private schools which have been in partnership with the state since 1977. Moreover, some of these colleges have been providing education for more than a century. All the three political leaders finally agreed with the Federation that this mechanism is implemented by the PSEA in such a way that it will inevitably push these schools to close down by themselves. It is a forced suicide.

In our meeting with Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the PMSD, we did refer to his Private Notice Question (PNQ) of 7th December 2021, when as Leader of the Opposition he asked the Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology  “whether, in regard to the correspondence dated 15 October 2021 addressed by the Director of the Private Secondary Education Authority (PSEA) to managers of grant aided private secondary schools, she can state if she has been made aware thereof and if she has taken note of the press communiqué dated 29 October 2021 from the Service Diocésain de l’Education Catholique and of the press conference of the Federation of Unions of Managers of Private Secondary Schools held on 08 November 2021 in relation thereto and, if so, indicate the actions she has taken to date regarding same, if any’’.  He recalled that the Minister, in her reply, created the impression that all school managers (confessional and non confessional) are swindlers, and siphoning public money.

Meeting with Nando Bodha, leader of extra-parliamentarian party Linion Moris, gave rise to talk on extended stream and he expressed grave concern about social dereliction with drug trafficking and drug abuse amongst youth. Apart from the grant issue, meeting with Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM and his other colleagues present brought to light the abusive powers which the PSEA avails itself to give regular instructions to schools in their day to day running, problems encountered with staff shortage, the compulsory requirement of holding a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) for any Degree holder in a context of shortage of staff and other factors, lack of consultation and gross incoherences in policy decision have worsened the situation. Therefore, Paul Bérenger stated that he firmly believes there is a dire need to rethink the role of the PSEA.

Indeed, the Office of Public Sector Governance, as reported in Le Mauricien of 25th October 2014, recommended at that time the introduction of an appraisal system for the Board of the PSEA, its staff and its policies and actions.  The meeting with Roshi Bhadain, leader of Reform Party was very enlightening on the legal aspects. For him, the PSEA Act is a case of infelicitous (inappropriate) drafting whereby the powers invested on the Director and the Authority as a regulatory body are prejudicial to its entities (schools). He stated that his party will pressurize to amend the PSEA Act so as to allow the private schools to function without infringements.

The Federation has also solicited an appointment with the Prime Minister and leader of the MSM, Hon. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth. Let’s hope the appointment be materialised as much is at stake for these colleges and the country.

Dr Jimmy Harmon





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