​HCMC international school expels students over tuition fee squabble

By Manh Tung   July 4, 2020 | 12:06 am PT
More than 40 children have been expelled by the Vietnam Australia International School in HCMC following an altercation with their parents over tuition fees.

For the last three days Huong, 50, has been running between four international schools to look for a place for her two sons, now in grades ninth and 11th, next year.

Just a few days ago she was informed by the Vietnam Australia International School (VAS) that her children would not be able to continue studying at one of its facilities in District 7 next year.

The reason it said was that disagreements between the school and parents over tuitions during the period when students had to stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic had caused "issues that destabilize the teaching and studying environment."

It promised to hand over the students’ academic documents, school profiles and other relevant papers this month.

Huong said for her two sons the school was more than just a place of education: They had grown attached to their teachers, friends and the school itself.

It is wrenching for them since they have been studying at VAS since kindergarten, she said.

"Disagreements over tuitions are normal. But it is a matter between the parents and the school. How could they let that impact the kids?"

Huong is only one of over 200 people who disagreed with VAS’s tuition policies during the Covid-19 stay-at-home period, and like her many others have received letters from the school telling their children cannot study there next year.

A group of parents comes to a VAS facility in HCMCs District 10, sporting banners to protest the schools tuition policies during the period where students stayed home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, May 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

A group of parents carry banners at a VAS school in HCMC's District 10 to protest against the school's tuition policies during the period when students had to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, May 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

Tuition rows

According to a parent, VAS collects school fees for the full year of VND200-500 million ($8,600-21,600) including for meals, transportation and others.

Disagreements first appeared in early April when the school asked parents to pay for the fourth term of the 2019-2020 school year but they said the fees they had for the third term from January to March had not been used yet since students did not attend school during the pandemic.

They asked the school to refund the third term tuition and not collect for the fourth until students return to school.

But the school rejected the demands, saying it had to pay for online lessons and salaries during the period. The parents in turn rejected this explanation, and VAS relented and announced on May 2 it would reduce tuitions by 70 percent.

But the problem was not resolved with the parents saying despite the reduction the fees demanded by the school for online lessons were still too high since they only began in late March.

Vo Huu Loi, whose children study in District 7, said: "This school’s fees are already higher than at an average school. Online lessons are also not as effective as classes in school."

Tran Quang Tuan, another parent, said: "We are not asking for the school to reduce fees, but for it to be transparent and treat us as the customers we are. We will only pay for the actual number of study days."

VAS sent a communication explaining how the fees were calculated.

The originally third-term fee for a sixth grader for January 1-March 13 was VND50 million ($2,160).

The parents of one student were told children studied at the school from January 2 to 31, for which the fees were VND21 million.

The students then went online from February 17 to March 13, for which the fees, following the 70 percent reduction, were VND6 million.

Thus, there was a reduction of VND23 million.

For the fourth-term, from May 8 to July 15, parents were asked to pay VND70 million, VND20 million higher than the original rate, despite the ostensible 70 percent reduction.

Many parents expressed frustration, saying: "The school said it has reduced the fees, but it turns out that the reduction was not much. Many only got a discount of VND2-8 million for the entire year."

Over 100 parents signed legal documents with their lawyers to sue VAS over its controversial tuition policies, May 30, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

Over 100 parents have hired lawyers to sue the Vietnam Australia International School in HCMC following disputes with it over tuition policies, May 30, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

Replacement difficulty

The mother of a 10th grader, who asked not to be identified and who also received the letter saying her child could not continue at VAS next year, feared while it might not be difficult for primary and secondary students to join another school, it would be much more difficult for high school students.

"For those currently enrolled in a Cambridge high school program, they would have to study A-level or AS-level courses in their 11th grade. It is not easy to find another international school for that. And even if we can, it will be much further away from home."

Nhung, whose two children were studying in third and sixth grades at VAS in District 2, said she was upset with the school’s behavior since a disagreement between the school and parents over tuitions should not interfere with students’ education.

"The school’s action is tantamount to blackmail."

The school said in a press release its tuition policies and curriculum changes were made based on instructions from the Ministry of Education and Training, and parents’ feedback.

Discussions have been held but it still could not reach an agreement with some parents, it said.

"We cannot let the children of these parents register for the new school year. We will make sure their studies are not affected, and that they end 2019-2020 on a good note."

Luu Minh Sang, a teacher in the law faculty at the University of Economics and Law under the Vietnam National University-HCMC, said there are no provisions in current laws to resolve this case.

The relationship between VAS and the parents is that of a service provider-consumer, and resolution would be based on agreements signed by the two parties, he said.

"The two sides should negotiate to find common ground and avoid affecting the students’ psyche and studies."

VAS is a non-public school system with seven campuses offering from kindergarten to high school. It has around 9,000 students.

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