Children shopping for stationery at LuLu hypermarket in Khalidiya Mall in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Dubai: As the new school year begins on Sunday, parents complain of being forced by schools to purchase books and uniforms from outsourced vendors at higher-than-market prices.

Many private schools require parents to purchase the items from a specific vendor, located on campus or outside the school.

Parents have complained time and again that prices at outsourced vendors are often much higher than other resellers in the open market.

This school year is no different, with many parents worried about the cost of books and uniforms.

One father of two children — in grade 1 and grade 3 — at a school in Dubai Silicon Oasis, said books from his school’s provider cost Dh1,300 in total, double the price from other shops.

‘No option given’

“Schools have a moral responsibility to select a fair-price vendor. Or they should publish the names of the required books well in advance of the start of the new school year, so parents can buy the books in the open market. If only one retailer knows what books are required, how will the others order it from the publisher or distributor?” the father said.

“Also, the uniform set plus shoes costs around Dh300 and we can only buy it from the school’s third-party supplier. I don’t mind paying a bit extra in this case, but the quality of the uniforms is very poor.”

Other parents with similar concerns did not wish to be named, to avoid their children getting dragged into the issue.

One said he had argued with the school about the prices. A mother of a grade 8 boy at an Al Qouz school, said: “We’re not allowed to buy books or uniforms from anyone other than the contracted company of our school. Books cost around Dh800 and two sets of uniforms, around Dh500. Other parents have told me this is higher than what they found outside in other shops.”

Another parent, a British father of a primary grade girl at an IB curriculum school in Jumeirah, said he spends Dh500 on uniforms per year. “Parents are told ‘go to this particular shop, pay the amount and pick up the uniform’. There is no option B.”

The cost of outsourced uniforms, books and school transport runs into thousands for dirhams per child, per year.

Set prices

On Wednesday, a Ministry of Education official told Gulf News: “The Ministry of Education sets the price for the schoolbooks, and each school must sell them at the same price. If schools charge a higher price than the one set by the ministry, parents have a right to make a complaint. Until now, we have received no complaints in Abu Dhabi regarding the prices of books. Some private schools distribute their own books; for these books, schools can set their own prices.”

The official added: “In total, for the new academic year, there are 460 different curriculum [subject] books and 7.4 million copies for all schools across the UAE under the ministry, for both public and private schools.”

Despite the provision that private schools not following the ministry’s curriculum “can set their own prices”, a top official had earlier told Gulf News that schools should not select suppliers that charge parents steeply for transport, uniforms, books and other non-tuition services.

Financial burden

Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, director of the Consumer Protection Department (CPD) at the Ministry of Economy, had said that some schools are, in effect, increasing the financial burden on parents by selecting expensive third-party suppliers.

In Dubai, prices for non-tuition services provided by the school itself are regulated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which also regulates tuition fees.

KHDA’s School Fees Framework is “applicable to all tuition fees and cost for services that are provided by the school (for example, buses, uniforms and schoolbooks).

However, the “fees and costs for non-tuition services provided by third parties must be optional for parents and are subject to the supervision and control of other government agencies.”

In apparent violation of the framework, some schools insist that parents buy books and uniforms from a particular supplier, citing a need for consistency in design, colour, material and school logo.

Sample school uniform cost per child

■  Shirt: Dh44-Dh70
■  Socks (three pairs): Dh19.50-Dh30
■  Shorts (regular): Dh37.50-Dh60
■  Shorts (sports): Dh41.50-Dh70
■  T-shirt (sports): Dh40-Dh60
■  Shoes (sports): Dh100-Dh250
■  Belt: Dh30
■  Black shoes (optional): Dh125-Dh295