UAE: Would you pay Dh3,000 for your graduation? Parents, students debate high costs

The price can become a sore point as students shell out hundreds (if not thousands) of dirhams for what they hope will be a picture-perfect ceremony


Meher Dhanjal

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Published: Sun 7 Jul 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 9 Jul 2024, 12:42 PM

It's one of the most significant days in a student's life: when caps are tossed high into the air and degrees are proudly received. Graduation ceremonies are special as they symbolise the end of years of hard work and are often seen as an 'official' welcome to adulthood. But how much would you be willing to pay for one?

The question is at the heart of social media debate of late, after management issues at recent events left some students in the UAE disgruntled and frustrated.

This was the case for some students at Canadian University Dubai this year, after several guests found themselves unable to enter the main venue on the big day due to ticketing and seating issues. Layla (name changed on request) was one such graduate whose parents could not witness her moment of triumph.

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"Right before I had to head out from the green room area, my parents called to tell me that they weren't able to get in, despite having paid around Dh630 for two guest tickets, my attire, and a headshot that would be displayed on the screen," she said.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, her mother said: "We reached ahead of time for the event; however, we were stopped by security who told us that the stage capacity was full and there would be safety issues if more people were allowed in. Towards the end of the ceremony, we were allowed to stand at the entrance and take a peek in, but by then we had missed our daughter walking across the stage."

Ademi Maukeyava, another student from the university, said her parents — who flew in from Kazakhstan to witness her sister and her graduate together — could not step into the venue either. "They missed the moment when I threw the cap ... That made me sad."

However, the 21-year-old said the university was quick to respond to her concerns and reimburse the ceremony fee as well as her parents' tickets to and from Kazakhstan. They also organised a boutique ceremony and gala dinner a month later for affected students.

Ademi Maukeyava and family (Supplied photo)
Ademi Maukeyava and family (Supplied photo)

In a statement to Khaleej Times, Canadian University Dubai said: "Unfortunately, a number of guests arrived at the venue without a ticket, and did not follow the entry protocols that had been communicated in advance. This led to a shortfall in ticket checks by the outsourced security team, which resulted in some un-ticketed guests gaining access to the venue. In order to safeguard health and safety, this meant that some parents were unable to enter the event hall to witness the ceremony."

Worth it?

Costs can become an especially sore point in such situations as students typically shell out hundreds (if not thousands) of dirhams for what they hope will be a picture-perfect ceremony.

A look at university websites in the UAE show fees can go up to Dh3,000 per student. This generally includes entry to the ceremony, two guest tickets and photograph(s). Higher-priced packages include guest tickets, more elaborate photography and souvenir options, and celebration meals.

When Middlesex University student Titas Basu learnt that she'd need to pay more than Dh1,000 for graduation ceremony, she said it was a 'shock' — and one that she needed to think through carefully before sharing with her parents. "I would have been happy to pay for the cap and gown, but I had to pay for my own seat at the ceremony too."

Titas Basu (Supplied photo)
Titas Basu (Supplied photo)

The university offers multiple packages for students to choose from: starting with Dh250 for graduates themselves, and then Dh250 for every additional guest. While many students eventually pay up, some — like 22-year-old Spanish expat Hannah (name changed on request) — decide to skip the rite of passage altogether.

"As soon as we received instructions for the graduation — which was being held months after I finished my course — saying that we would have to leave in a few minutes after receiving the diploma, I decided against going."

Hannah felt it was "not worth it" as she would have to pay Dh750 (inclusive of two tickets for her parents) for a "quick ceremony that wouldn't give [her] enough time" to spend with her friends and professors.

Murad Sharif, the father of another graduate who flew in from Pakistan for the event, also noted that it was 'too expensive'. "While my daughter enjoyed the ceremony itself, she didn't like the quality of the attire; we also later found out that the professional photograph was not included and would cost extra. Small things — like the catering being set up outside on a hot day — could have been improved," he said.

Khaleej Times reached out to the university but received no response at the time of publication.

Milestones and traditions

Some parents noted that while they'd have appreciated a less expensive affair, the milestone event was too important to miss. Sreena Manoharan, mother of another Middlesex University student Athul, who graduated in 2021, said that while the pricing was 'a bit too steep', the ceremony met expectations.

"We did not mind at all that it was a paid event, but the actual amount was unexpected — perhaps because of the great location it was held in. In the end, we did it for our son and it was worth it, as we got to celebrate our son’s graduation and the event itself was, more or less, up to the mark."

Dhirendra Kampani, whose daughter Drishti graduated from University of Sharjah in 2022, said that they weren't too surprised that they had to pay — although the cost of Dh545 was more than anticipated. "We would have appreciated it if it was subsidised further. The primary language of the ceremony was also in Arabic, which didn't feel very inclusive to us as minority non-Arabic speakers. However, apart from that, the arrangements were wonderful — so we just classed it as an additional expense to her tuition."

For many students too, it is the pressure of missing out on a long-standing tradition that eventually pushes them to attend the event despite the costs.

"I don't think that the ceremony is a 'need' but it creates a nice opportunity to say goodbye to your student life. It's a little like Christmas or Eid – a tradition and celebration that has passed down the years — and the fear of missing out on it is probably why so many students find the ceremony a must," said Lana Amini, a 22-year-old Syrian expat who graduated from American University of Sharjah this year.

Sabiha Ameen, a recent graduate from AUS, added that the event gives students a sense of belonging and achievement. "Graduation ceremonies mark the end of an era — and, more importantly, the beginning of a new one. The degree we earn is not our own; it's a family achievement, so it's important to have events like these that we can celebrate together."


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