In recent months student mutterings about university tuition have grown increasingly loud. Are universities raising fees indiscriminately? Will students and parents be able to afford higher tuition? What are the reasons universities increase their costs? Notes finds out.

Ajman University of Science and Technology Rafiullah Bashiri is furious about a recent fee hike. A friend informed him about the increase. Both are second-year dentistry students at the Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUST). He wrote to Notes about the situation.

"One credit hour was increased by Dh100 and our courses are already among the most expensive courses at the university. We normally take 20 credit hours per semester, which is a lot. Throughout the year, we pay Dh50,000. When the programme started out it was Dh800 for the credit hour, but now it's over Dh1,200 and no facilities have been added. Nothing changes but the fees.

They should have informed us," he wrote. Thamer Saeed Salman, vice president of administrative and financial affairs at AUST, said tuition remained the same from 1988 to 2005 when "universities across the UAE were regularly increasing tuition fees". It was not until 2005, that AUST began to moderately increase its tuition fees. According to figures supplied by Salman, dentistry is the most expensive course at AUST, which Bashiri is studying. Since 2005 fees have steadily increased from Dh775 to Dh850 to Dh950 to Dh1,100 to Dh1,200 per credit hour this year.

"The increase is based on a precise and delicate study of a number of factors & which took into consideration the living cost of the country, the scope of inflation, the increase of high-technology equipment and the infrastructure at the university, such as clinic, labs, CCTV classrooms, and academic staff," said Salman. "If you want to maintain excellence in education and quality in the services you offer to students, you must increase the tuition fees.

By doing so, you can successfully provide first-rate education and services and still maintain university funds that can be allocated to things such as equipment or salaries of academic and administrative staff, otherwise survival is not guaranteed." Salman maintains that AUST's tuition is still affordable and less expensive than most accredited universities in the UAE. He finally added that the university's publications all contain a disclaimer, "which states clearly that the University reserves the right to increase the tuition fees at any time and without prior notice, so we are only abiding by the bylaws and policies of the University."

Students are informed of these policies when they join AUST to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion later on he said. SAE Institute, Dubai SAE Institute general manager Anthony Frantzis said tuition fees, now Dh60,000 per annum, have not increased this year. The institution was "very compassionate and sensitive to the financial difficulties faced by many parents and students in Dubai," he added. "Over and above that, for students whose parents are facing particular hardship, SAE is willing to listen and be compassionate about finding additional solutions."

SAE recently waived both administration and/or cancellation fees for students who faced extreme financial difficulties. If students pay up front for the one or two year programmes, they get a 10 per cent discount. Dh 28,000 Dh 35,000 Dh 40,000 Dh 60,000 Dh 47,000 Professor M. Badr Aboul-Ela, Director of the Commission for Academic Accreditation at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, commented on the tuition fees charged at private universities. He said the ministry did not impose any restrictions on what a university could charge. "The only thing we monitor is that the institution complies with its own regulations and whatever has been announced to students or published at the time of first enrolment."

"If institutions say they have a right to increase fees by five per cent and students accept it, then they should not complain," said Aboul-Ela. He added that if an institution was in contravention of its policies, they [students] "have every legitimate right to complain to the ministry and even sue them". Aboul-Ela said the ministry has received complaints but in most cases the students were wrong because they did not read what was written in the university catalogue at the time of registration.

He suggested students read the fine print more carefully. n The ministry can be contacted on or 02-642-8400. ministry of higher education and scientific research responds Parents overwhelmed Ganesh Palaniappan, whose daughter Madhumeta attends AUS, said tuition was "generally very high at AUS though I think it provides a better education". Commenting on AUS's 12 per cent tuition hike next year Palaniappan said: "In my opinion it [tuition hike] should go the other way around because rents and salaries are all going down now. Increasing fees is not a welcome measure." Samina Sadaqat's daughter Rohma is also studying at AUS and receives a 40 per cent discount on fees through financial aid. Upon hearing that fees were going to increase next year she said: "Oh no! We are not prepared for the increase.

We are already worried about the rents in Sharjah and increasing tuition will just be horrible for us." Sadaqat's second child is also applying to AUS next year. His scholarship and financial aid applications have already been submitted as the family would not be able to cope with full fees she said. Have your say Have tuition and food costs dramatically increased at your university? Write to us at NOTE: The tuition costs listed are an estimated average of fees, which universities have listed on their websites and student handbooks. American University in Dubai Salma Nour was not happy with AUD's annual fee hike.

The third-year graphic design and photography major pays an average of Dh30,000 for the spring and fall semesters but the cost goes up to about Dh50,000 if she takes summer sessions. "It used to be Dh23,000 when I first got here, then it went up to Dh27,000 and now it's Dh29,000 for two semesters. My major is expensive and then there are food costs to worry about as well; it all adds up." President Lance de Masi said the university did not increase its fees this semester and that they "have increased over the years, but not in a systematic way".

He added: "Tuition fees are reviewed on a yearly basis and depend on inflation rates, for example." Figures de Masi supplied show fall and spring semester fees are Dh29,250 and the summer session Dh17,500. There were no complaints from students and parents he said. "AUD assists students who may be struggling with payment, as we offer several scholarships opportunities." Manipal University Dubai Manipal University director Dr B. Ramjee said that from its inception in the UAE in 2003, the tuition fee was increased only once in 2007. The fees range from Dh21,000 per annum to Dh35,000. Ramjee said fee increases were applicable only to incoming freshman students.

"Such a modest increase had become imperative in order to keep up with inflation and the affiliated increase in the cost of living in Dubai." University of Dubai Kamel Yassin was one of the few students who felt the tuition fees were affordable. He said the fee structure was flexible and students could study at their own pace and according to their budget.

He said students must take a minimum of three courses, which cost Dh2,700 each, and a maximum of seven per semester. "Most students take four or five courses per semester. The course fees used to be Dh2,400 about two years ago, but I have no complaints." Yassin said his tuition fee amounted to about Dh30,000 per year.

American University of Sharjah "I think it's really expensive to get an education at AUS. In this current recession they're raising prices. In previous years it was not such a big jump but this year we had a bigger jump," said student Rusol Tamimi. Last semester Tamimi paid Dh28,000 in tuition fees, "but for people living in the dorms it can cost about Dh100,000 a year to attend AUS if you factor in books, food and other expenses".

Tamimi suggested that the university use the donations it receives to defray tuition. Other AUS students agreed that fees were high but that it was well worth the cost. Noorjahn Yousuf, an electrical engineering student, said AUS was one of the costliest universities in the UAE but that it provided ample scholarship and financial aid. opportunities. "I'm on a merit scholarship and I also receive financial aid. This brings my tuition to Dh15,000 per semester."

AUS chancellor Dr Peter Heath said that the university determined the cost of tuition after comparing its rates with other regional and local private universities and after its recommendation was adopted by the AUS Board of Trustees. For the 2009-2010 academic year, tuition will increase 12 per cent, to become Dh73,000 on average. Tuition increases on an annual basis. Heath revealed that, "This will be the last year, assuming the current economic environment continues, that we will consider double digit increases".

Heath noted the budget for financial grants will increase from 26 per cent next year, and remarked that the university would be more aggressive about attracting endowment funds and using scholarship grants. University of Sharjah (UOS) "We probably have the lowest fees for what we offer in terms of education in a world-class university," said UOS chancellor Professor Samy Mahmoud.

Tuition averages Dh35,000 per annum. The fee for the medical college is slightly higher and Sharia and law lower. Last year the tuition fee was raised for programmes such as communication because new studios and facilities had to be built. There are no plans to increase fees next year. "The cost of programmes requires us to raise fees but it is only by a maximum of four or five per cent," Mahmoud said.

He said UOS's comparatively low fees were because Sharjah generously provides financial assistance. "About 75 to 80 per cent of our income comes from fees and the rest comes from assistance from the Emirate of Sharjah." Mahmoud said UOS aimed to keep fees affordable and financial aid and scholarships are provided. "We constantly receive applications from students facing hardships - parents are laid off from work and they face financial difficulty." University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) UOWD fees jumped 20 per cent last year, bringing current annual tuition to over Dh40,000.

"We do not anticipate that we would change fees at all this year under the current circumstances," UOWD vice-president of administration Raymi van der Spek told Notes. UOWD has offered a 10 per cent reduction on first semester fees to new students if they apply and pay their tuition before March 31. We understand how difficult it is to balance budgets in these hard times and we hope our gesture will provide some relief to parents and students," said UOWD president Rob Whelan. Van der Spek said undergraduate fees had not changed in nearly four years, until last year, and that there no complaints. "Some years we've had no change and other years a bigger [one]. Over the past five years, fees have increased between seven and eight per cent per annum."

UOWD has also changed fees policy. The university is now entitled to increase fees annually up to a maximum threshold of 15 per cent. Previously, enrolling students' fees were frozen at the same rate for the duration of their time in the university, said van der Spek. The new policy only affects new students. Dh 36,000 Dh 65,000