Parents in tuition wrangle with HCMC international school complain to authorities

By Manh Tung   July 9, 2020 | 09:33 pm PT
Parents in tuition wrangle with HCMC international school complain to authorities
Parents of students at Vietnam Australia International School in HCMC work with a lawyer (L) to pursue their disputes with the school over tuition policies, May 30, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.
The parents of more than 10 students expelled by the Vietnam Australia International School over a fee dispute have taken their grievance to authorities.

On Thursday they filed a complaint with the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee and the city Department of Education and Training.

Last week the HCMC-based school had informed the parents of more than 40 students that the latter would not be able to continue studying next year, saying disagreements over tuitions payable during the period when students had to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic had "destabilized the teaching and studying environment."

The dispute had begun when parents became unhappy that VAS did not reduce fees by much despite the fact that students stayed at home since the Lunar New Year holidays in late January due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there were only online classes between mid-February and mid-May.

While annual fees at the school are VND200-500 million ($8,600-21,600), many parents only got a waiver of VND2-8 million.

This, coupled with the decision to expel their children, has outraged and frustrated parents, with some saying the school’s actions were "tantamount to blackmail."

Pham Thi Bach Tuyet, a lawyer at the Duc Kien Minh law firm who is representing them, said the complaint includes three main questions: whether the school's decision to expel the students is legal, what options are available to the expelled students whose curriculum at VAS does not allow them to switch to other schools, and how to deal with a school that has violated the rights of equality in education conferred by the law.

Bui Kim Hieu, head of the law faculty at the Ho Chi Minh University of Foreign Languages – Information Technology, said VAS’s actions are in violation of educational and civil laws.

When parents choose an international school for their children with its own curriculums and courses, it is implicit that the students must fully finish them as part of an unwritten contract with the school, he said.

Paying tuitions on a yearly basis is merely a convenient method of payment, and does not mean that the parents-school contract is renewed every year, and so VAS’s decision to not take in students next year is a unilateral termination of the contract, he explained.

The law stipulates that VAS must either prove that the parents have violated their contract obligations or propose another agreement in its place, he said.

"Even though the contract is between VAS and parents, the beneficiaries in this case are the students. This is a contract concerning the interests of a third party, and so the students' opinions must be sought for before the termination of the contract."

Both parties should take a step back and negotiate, but the education ministry has a responsibility to protect the legal rights of learners, which in this case is equal opportunities for education for every citizen, Hieu said.

Nguyen Le Ninh, member of the Advisory Council of Science, Technology and the Environment, HCMC Committee, Vietnam Fatherland Front, said VAS’s actions were not humanitarian and negatively affected the educational environment and the public’s psyche.

Le Hoai Nam, deputy director of the city Department of Education and Training, said matters related to tuitions at non-public schools are purely civil agreements between schools and parents.

A VAS spokesperson said the school took in parents’ feedback and reduced fees for the period when students had to stay at home, but could not keep meeting certain parents’ demands to change its policies.

"Education is an activity based on a social commitment between the school and parents to give children the best care and education. Failure to find a common voice between the school and a small group of parents for a long time has had a considerable impact on the teaching environment."

VAS has seven campuses offering classes from kindergarten to high school levels and around 9,000 students.

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