Law change provides loophole to charge massive hikes

A legal loophole has enabled a private school in Limassol to hike its tuition fees by over 200 per cent, leading to a slew of complaints to the education ministry, which is left unable to do anything.

The L.I.T.C Russian-English private school in Limassol was sold from Russian to Ukrainian interests last year, with plans to open a new school called Trinity. The L.I.T.C is still operating under the same name however parents have been informed new tuition fees will come into effect in the new academic year – which is when the new name is expected to be rolled out.

One primary school student will see their tuition fees go from €375 per month, to €1500 per month.

“We have never received complaints of price hikes that amount to this much,” an education ministry source told the Sunday Mail.

A parent, who did not wish to share their name said “we cannot possibly afford this. We have already started looking for other schools but there’s hundreds of parents and not everyone can make it. We really don’t know what to do.”

An official at the education ministry confirmed they received a number of complaints related to the tuition fees, and it had already advised the school that it would be best to introduce such price hikes to new students if the school wished, but avoid increases for existing students.

Should the school want to instil a tuition fee increase for existing students, they should try keep it to a minimum as much as possible, the education ministry suggested.

However, the school is perfectly within its rights to completely ignore and disregard this advice.

“This is because there is currently a grey area with the law and there is nothing we can effectively do about it,” the ministry source said.

A law passed in 2019 which allowed for a two-year transition and came into effect in 2021, specifies that for new students, parents or guardians must sign an agreement with the school, that sets out the tuition fees for the entire level of education the student is enrolling in.

That means a new primary school student is obliged to have the tuition fees for the entirety of each year of their primary school years spelled out on paper before they attend. The same applies for private secondary schools.

Parents or guardians are then required to sign this, as a binding agreement.

According to the education ministry, the issue stems from the fact that the law specifies this the agreement is required only for new students. Existing students thus fall into a grey area where there is no binding agreement.

“We have already spoken to the school and they heard us out, we will be visiting them again,” the ministry official said.

Since the initial complaints, there have been no extra reports filed, the ministry source said, however one parent told the Sunday Mail there had still been no developments.

Asked whether the grey area had affected other private schools as well, the ministry noted there had been a few occasional complaints about fee increases, but the spike in reports over L.I.T.C. was likely related to the new owner, who brought about new changes.

One element the ministry is examining is whether L.I.T.C. will continue existing alongside Trinity school. “Our suggestion is that even if there is one student at L.I.T.C., they should continue studying there with the same fees. If there is a tuition fee increase it should be as minimal as possible.”

Asked whether the owners are within their rights to close down L.I.T.C. and ensure all students will have the option to register at Trinity – thus making them all new students, the education ministry said this could be a case that may have to go to court, as it affects children’s right to education.

“We’re not at that stage yet so a lot is unclear.”

Before the law came into force, the finance ministry would send a guideline to the education ministry on what was termed as a reasonable tuition fee increase at private schools, based on a number of factors including cost of living and inflation. This usually ranged between 2 to 3 per cent, the ministry said.

Despite repeated requests L.I.T.C did not respond to calls for comment in time for publication.