Dubai: Although the new school year is still several months away, Linda (name changed) is already getting anxious.
“I hope there won’t be any increase in school fees this year,” says the expatriate from the Philippines whose daughter is studying in Dubai.
Earning less than Dh10,000 a year as an administrative staff, Linda has recently found her household expenses shot up.
Since her daughter moved to Dubai a couple of years ago, Linda has had to fork out several hundred dirhams on textbooks, school uniforms, school bus service, stationery and school tuition, in addition to housing rent, food and other day to day living expenses.
“Almost often, I end up borrowing money especially during the enrollment period, because that’s when expenses tend to pile up,” she says.
“My husband, though working for a few months now, had been on and off jobs and I’m the only one with regular income.
The education cost is a burden for us, especially since it’s far more expensive than what we used to pay in the Philippines,” says Linda.
And while they’re already stretched financially, Linda has to constantly worry about why they’re in Dubai in the first place: they have to save money for their child’s future and their own retirement.
Linda is not the only one feeling the pinch on her wallet.
According to new research, UAE families earning less than Dh15,000 a month are the hardest hit financially, with nearly half of them (46 per cent) saying school fees take up more than 20 per cent of their household income on their children’s education.
“Those earning under Dh15,000 a month, that choose to educate their children in the UAE, are the hardest hit despite the fact that they will be cutting their cloth to fit their budgets,” according to a 2015 report by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, which polled 676 families from across the UAE.
“The statistics clearly underline the need for more affordable education in the UAE. The difficulty and challenge for UAE regulators is justifying the investment to private investors,” the report says.
Although school fee increases “tend to be constrained” by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), a number of parents are feeling the financial strain because they have to deal with other rising living costs while their incomes remain stagnant.
“Families feel the pain as a combination of factors - rent, food, healthcare which added together tend to squeeze household budgets - especially in an environment that has not benefited from significant salary increases,” James Mullan, co-founder of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, tells Gulf News.
“Twenty per cent of total household income may, or may not sound manageable, but for lower middle class families that also have to find rent, and provide healthcare for their families, this can become a strain very quickly.”
When comparing how much income is eaten by school fees according to nationality, however, the survey found some interesting trends.
Families that choose to send their children to schools offering Asian curriculum tend to spend less than those who opt for United Kingdom, United States or International Baccalaureate (IB) based schools that tend to target higher income groups.
“We found Indian families allocate the least to schooling, but this may not be entirely fair as a statement given that Indian expats are more likely to come from a less well off household than, for example, an American family.
Twenty per cent of an income of Dh15,000 leaves far less room than 20 per cent of an income of Dh70,000,” says Mullan.
“The system tends to favour upper middle class Indian families sending their children to an Indian curriculum school, which will have a fee structure for lower income groups. Those that suffer most are low to middle income groups targeting British, American or IB schools, which tend to target a more affluent demographic,” he says.