Dubai: As if rising tuition and transport fees were not enough, an ever-growing list of hidden costs at schools is a major source of concern, parents in the UAE claim.
As schools become more demanding, parents said they have no choice but to cough up more money.
In February, parents of children who go to private schools in Dubai were surprised at the decision to allow an increase in fees ranging from 2.4 per cent to 4.8 per cent next academic year (2017-18).
Then there's the additional cost of textbooks, stationery and uniforms sold at school shops, besides paying for a series of other charges — be it for exam enrolments and after-class activities or field trips, overseas excursions, photos, sales, fairs and other events.
“Everything seems to have become more expensive this year than last year. Even the transfer certificate required to be submitted when a student has to change schools has gone up from Dh30 to Dh135 this year,” said the father of a Grade 12 student at an Indian school who discovered the steep hike to his dismay last month.
“There are way too many hidden costs that schools weave in these days,” said the mother of a Grade 9 student at another Indian school. “If one were to look at the tuition fee break-up at my son’s school, there are many add-ons like STEM and CLP fees and there is no escaping them.”
According to a survey by educational consultancy WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, IB schools rated “outstanding” are Dubai’s most expensive, with parents paying Dh1,338,562 over the course of their child’s education. The second most expensive were “outstanding” UK curriculum schools at an average spend of Dh1,301,796 for Foundation through to Year 13. The third most costly choice was the “good” IB curriculum schools at an average spend of Dh1,267,058 for the child’s entire education.
James Mullan, co-founder of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, said, “The data included additional costs of uniforms, transport, school trips, stationery, compulsory devices, teacher gifts, sales and fairs, annual birthday parties, homework materials and petrol for transport to and from after- school activities, besides a five per cent annual inflation rate.”
The sudden rise in educational costs has not been lost on the authorities. Just last month, the UAE Federal National Council asked the Ministry of Education to investigate the issue of rising school fees amid claims that many private schools had added “unapproved charges”. India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has also asked its affiliated schools to refrain from commercial activities like selling textbooks, stationery and uniforms on their premises.
But as one parent pointed out, “It is not clear whether the directive covers UAE’s CBSE schools. It’s shocking how they make money through the sale of books and uniforms which they ensure we buy with riders attached.”
In one school in Al Warqa, parents of Grade 3 to 8 students recently received a circular from the principal which stated that only those who buy print copies of books from the school would be able to purchase the digital textbook solution as a supplementary learning aid. “We see this as a veiled attempt to make parents buy books only from the school,” said the father of a Grade 8 student, claiming the books were cheaper outside. “Moreover, it is common for parents to pass on textbooks of older children to their younger siblings, which not only makes sense from the point of view of economics but also the environment.”
The mother of a Grade 6 child echoed his words. “I don’t understand why we cannot buy the regular textbooks outside and get the digital solution like the others. Why this selective access? The book prices in the school are high compared to shops outside. For example, the Hindi book for Grade 6 is Dh32 at a Bur Dubai bookshop but the same is sold for Dh55 in the school.”
The high cost of local field trips and overseas excursions is another cause for concern. The mother of a Grade 9 student in a Sharjah school said, “The school has been arranging a US trip for the last three years, the cost of which is a whopping Dh15,000 per student. How many can afford it? They charged us Dh150 even for a local desert safari, when we all know there are concessions for large groups, especially students. I also cannot come to terms with the Dh30 they charge for a class photograph.”
In-house events like book fairs, pet carnivals and annual day celebrations also take a toll, parents said.
“Costumes that my daughter is required to wear every time she has to perform on stage are so expensive. I have to shell out Dh100-Dh120 for a fancy outfit which can never be worn again. Can’t schools have a bank of costumes and recycle them among students every year?” asked Anne, a Grade 3 girl’s mother.
Parents said they feel the pinch right from the time of admission. “I was in for so many surprises when my little one started school this year,” said the mother of a Foundation 1 boy at an international school. “But there was little I could do about it.”
Last month, a “mystery shopper” survey of schools conducted by the Education Intelligence Group suggested that many premium Dubai schools are complacent in their treatment of parents during the admissions process. The study found new schools faring much better compared to the more established schools.