190828 students after schools
Six Dubai schools whose ratings fell and 11, which were inspected for the first time, will not be allowed to hike fees. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dubai: The majority of Dubai’s private schools, around 80 per cent, can only raise fees by around two per cent this academic year, with many offering discounts or freezing fees, schools said.

In Abu Dhabi also, school fees appear to have increased only nominally across many private institutions, based on feedback from schools and parents.

Out of 176 private schools in Dubai inspected in the previous cycle, 141 schools whose rating stayed the same were found eligible for a 2.07 per cent fee increase for this cycle, which begins next week.

141 schools

in Dubai eligible to hike fees by 2.07% this year

Meanwhile, six schools whose ratings fell and 11 schools who were inspected for the first time, will not be allowed to increase fees this cycle.

Only nine Dubai schools qualified for the maximum 4.14 per cent increase under the new rules, announced in March. Six of them had improved from ‘acceptable to good’ and three from ‘weak’ to acceptable’.

4.14%

fee increase allowed in 9 schools this year. Five schools eligible for 3.62% and 4 schools for 3.10%

A further five schools, which improved from ‘good’ to ‘very good’, qualified for a 3.62 per cent increase. The remaining four schools, which improved from ‘very good’ to ‘outstanding’, were eligible for a 3.10 per cent increase.

Fees frozen

However, it is not yet clear how many schools have actually raised fees — a number of schools are instead freezing fees or offering discounts.

Alan Williamson | CEO of Taaleem

Alan Williamson, CEO of Taaleem, one of the UAE’s biggest private school groups, said: “For the benefit of our parents and after listening to our community, we have, in most of our schools, frozen our fees over last few years.”

He added: “At Taaleem schools, we do not offer ad hoc discounts. However, we do offer a limited number of scholarships as these are related to specific academic talents and achievements. The only other fee reductions, other than normal sibling discounts, are where the approved fees from KHDA [Knowledge and Human Development Authority] are higher than the regulated fees we have previously published.”

Williamson said the dynamics of opening a new school have changed over the years. “Whereas, in the past, a newly opened school could expect to start with a large cohort of children, many schools, aiming at the premium sector, have opened with very few students and therefore may have an unsustainable and uncertain future. Some business plans have ‘flown out of the window’ and several operators have had to seek emergency financial restructuring or the sale of their assets to survive.”

He added: “There has been a recent increasing number of ‘for sale’ signs being posted, and closures announced. Many sole operators have also sought the shelter of school groups to help them weather their immediate financial storms.”

Williamson said while many schools, especially new entrants, offer discounts to attract parents, “established ‘Premium Schools’ with a solid reputation within the community will always be in demand and do not discount. They are mostly at capacity and will be at the top of discerning parents’ lists.

“Despite the extensive advertising campaigns and many incentives offered by new entrants to the market, statistics tell us that around 70 per cent of parents choose a school on their historical reputation, gathered from talking to friends, family, coworkers and from reading positive posts on social media platforms.”

Multiple options

Many schools have several avenues for parents and students in terms of discounts, ranging from ‘early bird’ registration, scholarship, new admission, sibling discount and referral.

David Cook | Headmaster of Repton School Dubai

David Cook, headmaster of Repton School Dubai, said: “At Repton, we aim to support our student and parent community wherever possible and do so via a series of programmes, catering to the unique requirements of students… We will continue to work closely with the parent community to ensure that all concerns are addressed through existing and future endeavours.”

These programmes at Repton include a discount of up to 10 per cent in the case of early payment of tuition fees. The UK curriculum school is also offering a scholarship of up to 10 per cent for students who have attained “truly outstanding results” in their IGCSE exams (typically taken in Year 10). Students in Year Five to Year Eight, who excel in various fields of academics, music and sport are also eligible for a scholarship of 10 per cent.

Repton also offers a sibling discount of five per cent, commencing from the third sibling onwards. Parents quoted as referees, will receive a four per cent discount in tuition fees, per new enrolment resulting from their recommendation.

‘Making it affordable’

Kamal Kalwani | Co-founder and vice-chairman of AIA

Ambassador International Academy (AIA), a UK-IB school in Dubai, has discounted its annual tuition fees by 40 per cent “to make it affordable and accessible for parents”, said Kamal Kalwani, co-founder and vice-chairman of AIA. He added that AIA’s fees are set at around Dh30,000 for pre-primary and around Dh35,000 for primary school.

Kalwani said AIA fees are much lower than the “Dh52,800 average for pre-primary at IB schools in Dubai and Dh65,600 for primary”. That would mean AIA parents would save Dh22,400 in KG and Dh28,800 in the primary, according to the school.

In Abu Dhabi, parents told Gulf News that small fee increases were manageable in an economy where some other costs are on the rise.

More than 60 per cent of all students in the emirate of Abu Dhabi attend private schools — there are now more than 190 private schools.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) regulates these schools, and by law, must issue approvals before fees can be increased. This year, the authority has not released any details on how many schools have received permission to increase fees.

‘Acceptable increase’

“Three of my daughters attend a British curriculum school in Abu Dhabi, and I pay about Dh27,000 per child. This year, each child’s fees has increased by about Dh400. Compared to many other schools, this is an acceptable increase,” A Abdullah, a Jordanian mother-of-four, told Gulf News.

She added that the school, like most other schools in Abu Dhabi, had not increased fees in 2018-2019. In 2018, many schools in Abu Dhabi opted not to raise their fees in order to help parents cope with the introduction of the VAT (Value Added Tax).

“It is a good school and the management is not aggressive when we cannot pay on time. So even though school fees take up more than 40 per cent of our household income, we are satisfied,” Abdullah said.

G.M., owner of an IT security solutions from India, said fees at his daughter’s school had increased last year but no increase has yet been posted for 2019-2020.

“In grade five, the fees are set at Dh12,000 per year. The standard of education is also good, so the fees are not a concern,” he said.

Fee increase approvals

Fee increase approvals are granted by the Adek if an institution meets a number of criteria. For instance, the school must demonstrate a commitment towards improving human capital through professional development opportunities and better salaries for teachers.

Education allowance

Parents who receive an education allowance are fortunate not to have to worry about increasing school fees.

Mohammad Mohiuddin, 44, a systems analyst from India, said fees have increased by 10 per cent at the Indian curriculum school his three children attend. His children’s fees are, however, covered by his employer.

“Moreover, the school premises are new and the education standards good, so this increase makes sense,” he added.

Meanwhile, other parents use credit-card-based schemes to distribute the fee payment load over the year.

Dubai school fees framework 2019-20

  • 141 schools found eligible for 2.07 per cent fee increase
  • Nine schools for 4.14 per cent
  • Five schools for 3.62 per cent
  • Four schools for 3.10 per cent

New Dubai schools

Five new private schools are opening in Dubai in September

  • Al Ghaf Primary School, UK
  • Al Salam Community School, UK
  • Ambassador International Academy, UK – IB
  • Arcadia High School, UK
  • Apple International School (Branch)