Ahead of the new term, which begins on August 30, a number of schools confirmed they will sustain some form of financial help for parents struggling with fees. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Many private schools in the UAE will continue to provide financial relief in the new term for parents economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last term, several schools had given a blanket discount — mostly around 10 to 30 per cent — to all parents, or provided some relief on fees on an individual basis.

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Ahead of the new term, which begins on August 30, a number of schools confirmed they will sustain some form of financial help for parents struggling with fees because of salary cuts, job loss or business downturn as a result of the pandemic.

In Dubai, schools will not be raising fees under the governing regulations for the new academic year. Still, some schools have been proactively freezing or even reducing fees.

One of the UAE’s biggest school groups, Taaleem, has been taking a number of measures in the interests of parents at its dozen-plus schools in the country. Taaleem CEO Alan Williamson said the group recently provided an “across-the-board” fee relief package of up to 25 per cent to parents spread over two semesters.

Waiving charges

“As further relief to parents, in Dubai we have waived application fees for new students across all of our schools, enabled payment plans for deposits and introduced the automatic re-enrolment of current students for next academic year,” he added.

Alan Williamson

“In addition to these relief measures, we have frozen fees for the past three years in the majority of our schools and implemented further fee reductions in a number of our schools to help retain and recruit new students.

“Any of our families who are suffering severe financial difficulties are strongly and sympathetically encouraged to share them with the school principal before the start of the academic year. There are a number of options available where we can partner with parents to overcome their short-term financial difficulties.”

Multimillion-dirham fund

Another major school group said that in March, when the impact of the pandemic hit UAE schools, it created a fund for impacted families, worth millions.

“The Repton Family of Schools in the UAE — comprising Repton Dubai, Foremarke School Dubai and Repton Abu Dhabi — set up an immediate Dh8 million Repton Family Support Fund in March this year, providing financial support to families suffering financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, all parents within our three schools who re-register are receiving a 15 per cent fee reduction from last year’s Term 3’s fees applied to the new 2020-2021 academic year,” said David Cook, CEO of Repton Family of Schools and headmaster at Repton School Dubai.

David Cook

He added, “The Repton Family of Schools have always provided discreet but important support to our families, who sometimes find themselves in financial hardship through no fault of their own. Each request for support is dealt with confidentially and on an individual basis, and the schools will do all that is practicable to help families keep their children at their school of choice.”

‘Significantly revised’ fees

Meanwhile, Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD) had granted a discount of up to 20 per cent for the period of April-June.

Norbert Foerster, Head of School at SISD, said, “Recognising that the pandemic placed a significant burden on parents and in spite of the fact that the school’s main obligations did not diminish in any meaningful way, SISD granted a discount of up to 20 per cent for the period of April-June 2020. The discount was calculated taking into account the fact that the burden is heavier on those supporting younger students. Moreover, it also reflected the fact that Secondary School fees had already been revised for the school year 2020-21.”

Norbert Foerster

He added, “SISD has significantly and favourably revised Secondary School fees for the school year 2020-21. In addition, an exceptional community discount is granted to all students in the English+ programme, as well as to all Primary and Secondary students enrolled in one of the bilingual programmes.”

SISD will continue to apply the community discount of up to 20 per cent for all students in the English+ programme “in spite of the fact that the programme has been enhanced to offer premium and personalised STEAM lessons from September 2020 for PreK-Grade 5”.

The community discount also applies to all primary and secondary students in the bilingual programmes. Also, SISD continues to support families by granting upfront and sibling discounts.

‘We acted quickly’

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for GEMS Education, the UAE’s biggest school group, said the group provided financial aid to some 33,000 students with discounts, on average, of 33 per cent on last term’s fees. “We acted quickly to safeguard our students, teachers and the entire GEMS Education family. We also recognised the need to support struggling parents with our financial relief package.”

When asked about the new term, the spokesperson said, “GEMS Education has always helped parents in genuine need to protect their children’s education, whether that was through GEMS Cares or other solutions, such as individual payment plans. That will never stop.

Flexi schemes and rebates

“This is why every school administration is working with those parents who need more help right now. Examples of how they are doing this include flexible payment schemes and partnerships with financial institutions to provide rebates.”

The spokesperson added, “If parents are still struggling then we will look at other, individual alternatives to try our best to ensure their children continue to get the outstanding education they deserve.”

Permanent fee reduction

Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) and its primary Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), both non-profit providers of English curriculum education, have 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),” says Andrew Gibbs, Principal of DESS and DESC. “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.”

The aim is to ensure both schools remain as affordable as possible, says Gibbs: “Times, as of the onset of this all-pervading pandemic, have changed. The DESS and DESC Board of Trustees and myself felt that we needed to adapt our pricing structure accordingly and that any 're-set' needed to be a permanent one, based on the fact that the economic consequences of Covid-19 will likely be felt for several years and possibly beyond.”

Although DESC and DESS are unique in offering permanent, rather than temporary, relief in fees to parents going forward, Gibbs is clear that the move is not one that all schools can or should be expected to do. “All schools, school leaders, Boards and owners are under enough pressure as it is currently. They all have their own set of unique circumstances and challenges, as well as having many in common, particularly as they head towards re-opening after being closed since March.”

Full fees allowed

In Abu Dhabi, the private school regulator, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), had urged educational institutions to offer fee discounts and easy payment plans in the previous semester, citing job losses, salary reductions and other financial constraints brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

This time around, the Adek has mandated that families must pay the full approved tuition fee to schools, regardless of how many days of in-class learning are undertaken by children.

“Full tuition fee will apply to students, regardless of the mode of attendance and reopening model followed by the school. If you are facing financial constraints, reach out to your school’s Principal for support,” the authority said in a school reopening guidebook for parents.

‘No discounts’

A Scottish mother-of-three in Abu Dhabi said, “We are happy with my children’s British curriculum school, but the fees have always been steep. There were no discounts offered despite the full-time distance learning, and many parents were dismayed. I don’t believe any considerations will be made this time around either, and I have heard of a number of families moving children to other schools.”

Another parent, a Sri Lankan expat in the UAE capital, said he had been offered a 20 per cent discount in the previous semester after he had cited a salary reduction.

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“The salary reduction stands, but we are now required to pay the full school fee. I hope schools will make considerations for parents faced with financial burdens in these uncertain times,” he added.

A Syrian father said he had paid the entire tuition fee in advance for his daughter in the previous academic year. “We were not told of any discounts for the previous term when distance learning was mandated. So I personally prefer to send my daughter to school for in-class learning, given that the schools implement the required safety precautions, because fees are not adjusted even when parents do a lot of the work during distance learning,” he added.