Fee Hikes in Times of Meltdown

Deciding a school for your child’s education may be as daunting as finding a home that gives you value for your hard earned money in the UAE.

By Meraj Rizvi, Afshan Ahmed, Ahmed Abdul Aziz And Anwar Ahmad

Published: Tue 17 Feb 2009, 2:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 7:53 PM

At What Cost the Education?

With schools across the UAE going for fee hikes, parents are mulling to re-consider their decisions while picking the “right school” for their children.

A school may promise you the world, but are they delivering? And, is the exorbitant cost of education justified? Khaleej Times talked to some parents to find out.

EVA KUSI, whose son recently joined a school in the Mirdiff area in Dubai, pays Dh30,000 annually for his education, which includes the cost of his textbooks. “I was looking for a school that would allow him to vent his energy by way of added activities.

“Here, they have after school classes like swimming and football. It’s not cheap but it’s better than the other schools that charge for nothing.”

The previous school of Eva’s son had increased the fees by four times but was not providing the right kind of activities she was looking for.

Nandakumar A., who lives in Sharjah and has a son in the 12th standard, has no complaints with the teachers, but thinks there is a scope for improvement. To him a 15-20 per cent increase in his son’s fee last year was acceptable. “The fees increased but I think it was because salaries had gone up and schools thought it was the right time. However, there was no change in the way education was imparted or any added facilities.”

Dipen Mehta of Dubai points out “For the kind of money I pay, the quality of education is quite low. Education is extremely commercial in the UAE”.

Dipen Mehta, who works in Dubai and shells out Dh16,000 annually for his child’s education, pointed out, “For the kind of money I pay, the quality of education is quite low. Education is extremely commercial in the UAE. The school gets teachers at a low cost, who in turn, show no motivation. After the school hours, children need to go for tuitions.”

Dipen has seen the tuition fee jumping by over 35 per cent and the transport fee leapfrogging by 300 per cent in the last three years. “A certain amount of hike is justified as long as it is in line with the inflation,” he pointed out.

Shirley D is upset with the approach her daughter’s school has adopted and the fees she has to pay. Her daughter likes to play squash but the coaching would come as an added cost to the Dh17,000 that she already pays per year. “Tuition fee, apart everything else, is also charged for. All extra activities, all materials and on many more occasions we have to extend additional amounts.

“At the end of it all, I still have to put in a lot of effort from my side for her education.”

She believes the school hasn’t been transparent with the parents when it comes to utilising the funds.

Shakeela Mohammed, who had to bear a 17 per cent fee hike (Dh4,000 in actual figure), is quite content with the quality of education her child gets in the school.

Similarly, Christian Roigk whose child’s cost of education is borne by his organization, is happy too. “The school provides a right balance between activities and education. Also, my child is exposed to so many diverse cultures because of the mix of students,” says Christian.

Bina Raveendran too believes that the school her daughter goes to provides quality education at a low fee.

However, most parents are disturbed by the fact that the schools are contemplating even steeper fee increases from the new academic year.

“We have heard that a lot of people have left the country and thus the number of students has reduced.

Mohamed Ansher, a banker in Abu Dhabi has recently transfered his two children to a more affordable school. “Now things are manageable”, Ansher said.

Mario M., too, is planning to send his daughter back home to the Philippines to complete her education.

Ameen Hassan, businessman said, “I was forced to send my children back to India six months ago for various reasons, one among them was high cost of transport”.

Dr Ikram Krashgi, an Iraqi dentist in Abu Dhabi, who has three school going children says the school is forever demanding some amount of money towards miscellaneous charges like for the maintenance of classrooms, which is quite annoying.

Tarek Saleh Hadmed, an engineer living in Abu Dhabi, believes that the school fee issue can be resolved only if the Abu Dhabi Education Zone (Adez) does something about it.

“Adez officials allow school managements the freedom to do what they want to without any restrictions,” he points out.

Are schools justified in raising fees in the times of global financial meltdown?

The question intrigues many parents as some private schools go ahead with their fee hike plans.

Parents, who feel let down by the timing of the move, rue that the schools as well as the Ministry of Education (MoE), are oblivious of their financial woes, as well as uncertainties, in these times of crisis.

According to a report released by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), school fees have risen by up to 50 per cent in the last one year. Almost all schools, says the DCCI report, have requested for further 20-25 per cent increase in fees for the coming academic year — in April and September.

In the last two years, almost all private schools in the UAE have hiked their fees by 10 to 30 per cent, citing inflation.

The DCCI report, released in October last year, infers that the cost of education has forced many expatriate parents in Dubai to shift their children elsewhere for education.

The report states that secondary school fees increased by 25.2 per cent in 2008, while primary school fees were 18.7 per cent higher compared to the preceding year.

The report estimates that school fees now range between Dh3,000 ($817) and Dh58,000 ($15,700).

As for the hikes, the Delhi Private School in Dubai has increased its fee twice since its inception in 2003. “In 2007 our school saw a 10 per cent increase and in 2008 we increased it again, but within the limits of our fee cap,” said Kasim Shajahan, Administration Manager of the school.

Schools that have been providing quality education at a nominal fee have also seen hike in fee structures. “We last raised our fees for the academic year 2007–2008 by a nominal margin of 20 per cent,” said Ashok Kumar, CEO of the Indian High School, Dubai.

“However, despite the increase, we continue to remain at the lowest fee bracket when compared to other similar institutions operating in the region,” he stressed, while adding that transport, books and uniform costs are subject to market conditions.

Affiliated to British curriculum, the Wesgreen International School (Sharjah) raised its tuition fee by 14 per cent for the academic year 2006-2007.

“We have not increased our tuition fees ever since. Books and transport fees are not included in the structure. The book fee was increased by Dh50 per grade from September 2008-09. Every increase has to be approved by the Ministry of Education,” said the school’s headmaster, J. Calafato.

The Sharjah American International School increased its fee by 20 per cent at the beginning of the academic year in September. When contacted, Nadya Mohsen Maddi, Deputy Director of Private Education at the Abu Dhabi Education Zone (Adez), confirmed that Adez had endorsed five fee hike applications submitted by private schools for the academic year 2008-09.

The fee issue took a new turn recently with the announcement of a 90 per cent hike by the Dubai Modern High School, reportedly due to the relocation of its campus. Even as protests by parents forced the school to roll back the hike by 10 per cent, several families have complained to the MoE about the rising school fees and the need to rethink its fee cap policy for private schools.

“The Ministry must look for more stringent measures against school managements proposing a fee hike this academic year,” said R.Philip, a parent.

He added: “Fee hikes by private schools under the current global circumstances is not justified. Instead, schools should be more sympathetic towards the plight of families,” he said. Agreeing with him, several parents pointed to the irony that while property prices, rents and commodity prices were sliding amidst the global economic crisis, education cost was on the rise in the UAE. However, education providers in the UAE justify the hikes. “We are being bogged down by huge operational costs while at the same time trying to provide state-of-the-art facilities and enhanced quality of education, all of which can be realized only by an increase in fee,” said the principal of a school in Sharjah.

“How do schools continue to remain viable without revising fee structure?” he asked. Last year, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) put a 16 per cent cap on private school fees in Dubai. The fee freeze, however, doesn’t cover schools moving to new campus or undergoing renovation.

Commenting on the issue, Dr Sadiq Midraj, an education expert and Professor at the Faculty of Education and Learning at Zayed University said, “The absence of proper regulatory control on schools by the Ministry of Education has led to private schools operating as commercial entities.

“School managements focus primarily on ways to make money, rather than to provide high quality of education.”

Dr Midraj added that several private schools in the UAE had failed to meet the international standards.

Echoing similar views, another education expert said that private schools in the UAE had turned into commercial firms with no objective other than looking for increased profits. He said most of these schools did not match the education standards of the UK and US-based schools.

Meanwhile, unable to cope as they are with the rising cost of education in UAE schools, applications for Transfer Certificates (TCs) by parents are on the rise. “TC applications this year are…historical figures,” said Dino Varkey, Senior Director of Business Development at the Global Education Management System (GEMS), which runs 26 schools in the UAE. GEMS sent out a questionnaire to parents of 35,663 students in January enquiring if they would be applying for TCs this year, and with reasons thereof. “Out of these, parents of 2,071 students have asked for TCs,” Varkey said.

Dr Abdul Qadir, Principal of The Model School in Abu Dhabi, said, “We have received 150 applications for TCs till now.”

However, officials refused to confirm reports that several thousand TC applications were pending approval at the MoE. A source, however, said, “More TC requests are expected closer to the academic year ending in schools in the UAE which is around June.”

Meanwhile, trying to cash in on the situation, several schools, particularly in India, are now offering easy relocation facilities for NRI students. “We are facilitating relocation of NRI students into IGCSE and IB curricula offered at our newly opened residential school in Lonavla near Mumbai”, said Vineet Nayyar, Executive Vice Chairman of The Cathedral Vidya School in Lonavla .

What Parents Should Expect

WESGREEN SCHOOL (Sharjah) is a high-end school and we do offer plenty of extracurricular activities and the best education possible. We have our own swimming pool, football and cricket pitches, gym, labs etc. All of our campuses have recently had new facilities added for this academic year, six new labs, two additional IT suites, canteens and more ground space. — J. Calafato, Headmaster.

We invest wisely when designing our community schools, working with the very best of architects to get what we believe are the best buildings and facilities. We concur with the latest research that has proved emphatically what good educators have always known, that although surroundings play some importance, the single most important feature in a successful school is a highly talented and effective staff. It is, and will always, be our priority to recruit and retain highly skilled and passionate teachers. — Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications, Taaleem

GEMS has a philosophy of holistic education of the highest quality and we seek to produce young citizens that embody universal values and understand what it means to live in a global society. I believe our schools give the children an opportunity to develop to the best of their ability, whether it is academic or other aspects of their life and to understand and respect the views of other people and cultures. We continue to invest in the development of our teachers and students. — Dino Varkey, Senior Director of Business Development of GEMS

Our record is envious and unmatched. From the primary classes, our academic programmes are tailored to encourage independent and self-learning skills in our students. We promote research and IT based assignments in our curricular activities. An indoor sports complex, jogging track, rooftop basketball court, new laboratories, a massive library and research centre, IT integrated curriculum and a completely wireless campus. — Ashok Kumar, CEO, Indian High School, Dubai.

Schools Deny Rush for Transfer Certificates

THERE is talk of a massive number of applications from parents seeking Transfer Certificates (TCs) of their wards owing to the meltdown. But education providers rubbish the talk, saying it’s nothing more than ‘rumour’.

Says Dino Varkey, Senior Director of Business Development of GEMS: “TC applications this year are in line with historical figures.”

“There is a pressure in all schools for places so I predict that the student base will remain the same,” he points out.

In fact, schools are still waiting for the end of this academic year to establish the actual number of TCs sought. “As of now, we have got lesser requests than the previous year but we can’t be sure until March,” says Kasim Shajahan, Administration Manager at the Delhi Private School, Dubai.

The school has so far received only 10 applications for TCs. “We ask our parents to apply for a TC before the academic year ends because attestation takes time. But we cannot give them a deadline,” Shajahan says.

Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem, the education provider that has seven schools under its blanket, says, “A very small percentage of students at have withdrawn, far fewer than first expected.” Schools in Sharjah revealed similar figures, stressing a decline in the number of TC seekers compared to last year.

Nadine Tyro, Principal of Sharjah American International School, says, “Only a handful of TC requests have trickled in.”

J. Calafato, the Headmaster of The Wesgreen International School, which has students of 50 nationalities, says, “We have had students shifting out but very few and for a variety of reasons.”

Similarly, Mohammed Harish, Principal of Al Noor Indian Islamic School in Abu Dhabi, confirms: “We have issued only 10 TCs this year. Besides, we have been receiving requests for admissions in all grades.”

However, Dr Abdul Qadir, Principal of The Model School in Abu Dhabi, says he has received some 150 TC applications this year. “But this number is still lower compared to last year when we received 350 applications for TCs,” adds Dr Qadir.

Financial Support for Parents

FOR parents finding it hard to meet the costs of education for their children, some schools have decided to try to ease out their financial worries.

GEMS Care, an initiative of the GEMS group to support parents facing financial difficulties, will provide specific measures to parents who qualify for the help. “We’ll help them. We’ll also try to accommodate students in our schools that are economical. Forty students from Dubai Modern High have been accommodated in other GEMS schools,” says Varkey.

In a similar gesture, Pierrepont has asked parents of Taaleem students to keep communications open so that they can work with them towards a solution.

“Some of our parents are experiencing unfortunate financial difficulties. They have supported us throughout the years and we’ll seek ways to accommodate their needs in financial difficulties,” she says.

Price of Books and Uniforms in 2008


Wesgreen School (Sharjah)

No change in the Uniform price – Dh 100/- for a set (pant and shirt / skirt and shirt)

Books – Increase of Dh 50/ - per grade.

A set of books costs approx. Dh 1000/-

Emirates International School Dubai

Cost of books is included in the fee structure

Uniforms are subjected to market prices

Dubai American Academy

Cost of books are inclusive in the fee

Uniforms are from ZAKS Tailors and they given sets that range

from Dh 500 – Dh 700/- stating that the price has not increased.

Indian Schools

(Information from Arora Bookshop)

Book sets will cost anything from Dh 150- 200/-

Uniforms - Dh 100/- (for a pair of pant and shirt / skirt and shirt)

Magrudys (the bookstore that supplies uniforms to schools

like Repton and Dubai English Speaking School) have increased

the uniform price by 5 percent – Eg- In September 2008

Up,Up and Up…

ACCORDING to a report prepared by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, secondary school fees increased by 25.2 per cent in 2008, while primary school fees were 18.7 per cent higher compared to the preceding year. Transport fee has increased by 100-250 per cent last year.

Books and uniforms have seen an increase of 5-10 per cent. Parents have the option of purchasing these from various stores in the UAE, but some schools have made it compulsory tomake this purchase from the school only. Almost all schools have requested for another 20-25 per cent fee hike for the coming academic years in April and September.


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