Corporate discounts, structured payment plans and foreign language classes are among the incentives kindergartens and primary schools in the UAE are offering parents as competition heats up within the sector and cash-strapped parents look for alternative options at home.
Flexible payment plans are now the standard, with several schools offering post-dated cheques and pay-as-you-go plans, while others simply slash their fees.
“Education is the birth right of every child and we believe it is our obligation to make the payment of tuition fees as flexible as possible for our parents, so that students enjoy uninterrupted access to learning opportunities,” says Monica Valrani, CEO of the British kindergarten Ladybird Nursery. UAE school fees are already the second-highest in the world, according to HSBC’s Value of Education survey (only Hong Kong is higher).
But quality doesn’t have to come at a very high cost and a high cost does not equate to high quality, says Dilshad Lakhani, Group Director and Founder, Step By Step Nursery. “For the last 20 years at Step By Step Nursery, we have made it our mission to provide an enriching learning programme at the right price, without compromising on quality.” The nursery, with operations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, offers a range of different payment options, including paying in monthly instalments or by credit card.
British Orchard Nursery (BON), which has 20 branches across the UAE, says the size of their operation enables their customers to benefit from value pricing. Besides termly and monthly payment schedules as against the upfront settlements that were the norm not so long ago, BON has implemented individual payments plans to support parents with special circumstances, says Dr Vandana Gandhi, CEO and Founder, BON, tells GN Focus. “With such a diverse community we understand the need of multiple options for the timings, programmes, number of days and extra activities to satisfy individual customer needs.”
Parents can now pay by credit or debit card, bank transfer, or post-dated cheques across the UAE, including at BON and other groups such as Taaleem, which operates 10 schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“At Taaleem, parents can pay in convenient schedules. In certain cases we work with our families to develop individual payment plans, where they may find themselves in difficult financial situations, as we always want to ensure that each child can complete their education with as few disruptions as possible,” says Marta Topornicka, Chief Marketing and Admissions Officer.
Hummingbird Nurseries cater to children between three months and six years at its four facilities in the UAE, with flexibility in both fees and attendance schedules. “We offer bespoke, monthly and termly options to parents with the fees dependent on the attendance package chosen. We also provide a discount for parents if they are going away on holiday throughout the year, whether this is for a few days or 2 weeks,” Carissa Valentim-Du Toit, the area manager of the nursery.
Corporate discounts are also popular. Step By Step, for example, has schemes for government entities and large private sector companies. “This enables us to benefit more people and provides an opportunity to these organisations to solidify their internal relationship with their staff,” Lakhani says.
Following on from reductions last year, many schools across the board, including Taaleem, are freezing or reducing fees for the coming academic year. The rationalisation comes despite a ruling allowing private schools in Dubai that maintained or improved their ratings to raise tuition charges in line with the emirate’s Education Cost Index (ECI), currently at 2.07 per cent.
The changes are a direct response to the tremendous competition in the schools sector, among other factors such as company closures and job losses. In this scenario, discretionary discounts are now more easily available to those in need, parents and operators told GN Focus privately. Some schools offer scholarships and bursaries. Others are simply offering discounts – often up to 15 per cent or more.
Topornicka, however, says this is a dangerous tactic. “Taking such a substantial cut will eventually affect schools and nurseries ability to bring highly qualified staff.” For parents, more needs to be done. Nurseries are responding with an improved product, better services or upgraded curricula.