School fees
Some Dubai schools have chosen to permanently reduce their fees to be more affordable Image Credit: Shutterstock

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to happen to the Dubai school system in 2020, aside from the shift to online learning, has been a spate of school fee reductions across the emirate.

With just over half of the emirate’s school children back at physical school, and the other half choosing to continue with online learning, the KHDA ruled that there would be no discount on fees for those who chose distance learning when schools returned at the beginning of this academic year in September. However, many schools have chosen to reduce fees across the board in an effort to assist families struggling due to the pandemic, and in order to remain attractive to parents in an increasingly competitive school environment.

The latest school to announce fee reductions is Repton Al Barsha, formerly Foremarke School Dubai, whose tuition fees for 2020 start from Dh58,500 per year for FS1 to Dh76,500 in Year 6 and Dh83,000 in Year 8. Now a part of the Repton Family of Schools in the UAE, the school has announced a reduction in its tuition fees, starting from the 2021-2022 academic year. Beginning at the start of the next academic year, parents of students at Repton Al Barsha from Foundation Stage 1 to Year 6 will benefit from a permanent reduction in tuition fees of around 16%, while Senior School parents will benefit from financial support for the next three academic years: 15% off for existing parents and 10% off for new parents.

This follows the Dh8 million Repton Family Support Fund (RFSF) introduced earlier this year, which provided financial support and benefits to some families who had suffered financial hardship as a direct result of the pandemic.

Zoe Woolley, Headmistress of Repton Al Barsha says, “We understand many have faced financial challenges over the past few months, and we hope that this initiative, combined with our RFSF, can be a form of much-needed support to parents and our school community..”

Meanwhile Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) and its primary Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) - both non-profit providers of English curriculum education that were rated Outstanding by the KHDA in 2018/19 - announced a permanent reduction in their tuition fees from September 2020 onwards.

“We have offered a 5 per cent reduction at DESS (Primary from FS1-Year 6), and a 12 per cent reduction at DESC (Secondary from Year 7 - Year 13),” Andrew Gibbs, Principal of DESS and DESC, told Gulf News. “The economic challenges wrought by Covid-19 are inescapably hitting family incomes across Dubai and beyond; as a consequence we wanted to help our two communities.

After the discounts the schools’ new fees range from Dh35,468 in FS1 to Dh75,092 in year 12.

Meanwhile Hartland International School - a UK/IB curriculum school that was rated Very Good in the 2019/2020 KHDA school inspection - has permanently reduced its fees by almost Dh9,000 for FS1 students and by Dh4,000 for students in year 11 (the highest age bracket that it currently caters to). Its fees now range from Dh41,000 for FS1 students to Dh74,000 for year 11.

UAE parents should ask for fee reductions if needed

Although many schools offered temporary fee-relief to parents at the end of the 2019/20 academic year due to the shift to distance learning part-way through, the fact that many schools have gone back  for the 2020/21 school year either partly or fully online should have no impact on the tuition fees, said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

“The choice of distance learning does not impact the fees,” he said, during in his interaction on the #AskDXBOfficial platform.

However, parents should get in touch with their own individual school if their situation means they require a temporary reduction in fees, said Dr Abdulla Al Karam: “We encourage parents to have confidential discussions with the schools.

“Most of the schools that we talked to are very keen to help out as much as possible. These are the kind of conversations we would like to see between the schools and the parents themselves,” he said.

A pre-pandemic trend

While the pandemic has compounded the issue for many schools, Fiona McKenzie, Head of education consultants Carfax Education UAE, noticed a trend in fee reductions across some schools in Dubai before any of us had even heard of COVID-19.

“Several schools moved to reduce their fees last year in the face of increasing competition,” she told Gulf News.

“Schools such as Horizon International School and Repton reduced their fees permanently and others followed suit. Some also offered generous scholarships.”

Annual school fees in Dubai can vary wildly, says MacKenzie, ranging from Dh5,000 a year to more than Dh100,000 a year at the most premium schools. But, she says, the education landscape in the UAE is shifting slightly.

Where traditionally there was huge competition for places at Dubai schools because there were such a limited number, the recent glut of new schools being built in the past few years has led to an “overcapacity” at many schools, especially in those at the more premium end:

“One of the interesting things about the education system in Dubai is it that it is a free market,” says MacKenzie.

“Schools are free to charge the fees they feel are appropriate for the educational proposition they offer.

“Given the oversupply of places in the premium sector of the market this has led to a readjustment of fees to reflect this situation.

“The competition from mid-price point schools has proved compelling and this has challenged the top end of the market to reconsider their value offer and adjust it accordingly.”

However, parents in Dubai tend to be willing to spend as much as they can afford for their children’s education, adds MacKenzie: “Dubai offers a broad range of educational opportunities and parents are able to choose the one that best fits their educational aspirations and their budget.

“From my experience, parents prioritise their child’s education and are willing to sacrifice many lifestyle choices in order to give their children the best educational opportunities