Private schools in Dubai unhappy with ‘limited’ fee hike

Say increase is not proportionate to rising cost, and that quality will suffer.


Muaz Shabandri

Published: Tue 10 Jun 2014, 11:51 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:49 PM

Private schools in Dubai are unhappy with the cap on fee increase, imposed by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). Fee increase at private schools has been limited between 1.74 per cent and 3.48 per cent, depending on a school’s rating.

Khaleej Times spoke with several schools operators in Dubai who expressed dissatisfaction with the Education Cost Index (ECI) used by the regulator.

Janet O’Keefe, Director of Operations, Fortes Education said: “The allowed fee increase is not proportionate to the cost increase. Hence, over time a school is unable to invest in upgrading the school building and infrastructure, resources, IT facilities, recruiting better teachers and so on. It’s a vicious circle because the school then receives poor ratings in the KHDA inspections thereby making it even more difficult to raise fees. Over time, the school and hence the quality of education that it offers becomes progressively worse.”

KHDA currently uses the ECI to determine any increase in school fees. Last year, the education cost index was below zero and schools were not allowed to increase any fees.

Janet added: “We believe that KHDA has done a fantastic job in coming up with a framework for inspections and rating schools. However, the ECI in its current form is not a fair representation of costs faced in operating a school. To be a fair representation, it should be expanded to include rent, salaries, investments in resources, technology, new pedagogical methods, new curriculum development, and training.”

Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem Education echoed similar thoughts highlighting the failure of the cost index to build a sustainable school system.

“The major discrepancy in the current school fee framework is that 1.74 per cent of Dh8,000 is very different from the same percentage of Dh80,000. Yet there is no difference in costs for the budget schools and those that serve the premium sector, such as ourselves. They cannot buy educational supplies or services any cheaper and therefore their financial position becomes increasingly untenable. Often schools that have served Dubai well for many decades stare at closure in the face of this anomaly in funding.”

New schools in Dubai usually charge in excess of Dh20,000 annually for tuition and older schools facing limited fee increase are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with them.

“We attract our talent globally and hire the majority on international contracts. Therefore we are subject to global inflationary pressures that the ECI (Educational Cost Index) does not take into account. Between 60 to 80 per cent of our costs are taken up by staffing; our annual inflation costs range between 5 and 10 per cent and this does not take into account any further investment, or package increases. We have just awarded our teachers a Dh15,000 increase to keep pace with the rent rises in Dubai, this has had a major impact on our costs,” added Clive.

The fee increase framework has been regularly criticised by low-cost schools, who have blamed the regulator for increasing disparity in fees charged by schools catering to different market segments. Many low-cost schools did not agree to come on record when Khaleej Times contacted them.

Non-profit schools offered an alternative view on the cost index, highlighting the regulator’s efforts were helping maintain a balance on fee charged and costs incurred. The Jumeirah English Speaking School, which has received an outstanding rating from KHDA, plans to increase Dh800 across all grades this year.

Rob Stokoe, Director of Jumeirah English Speaking School said: “The current fee increase allows us to meet our needs for the upcoming academic year. Our only interest is to provide excellent education and as a non-profit school we only have to break even on our costs. The major cost in running a school is staffing high quality teachers. Rent, utility and maintenance also factor in significantly.”

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