Studies find that it costs more than a million dirhams to put a single child through school from kindergarten to university. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: Education in the UAE is known to be an expensive affair, with studies finding it costs more than a million dirhams to put a single child through school from kindergarten to university.

Parents feel the brunt acutely, as they experience firsthand the increasing tuition and supplemental costs.

Tanvir Ahmed, 42, a senior administrative professional from India, can testify to the increasing cost of education.

Tanvir Ahmed

Tuition fee increases

“My expense on education has increased by at least 70 per cent since my eldest daughter started school a decade ago,” Ahmed told Gulf News.

“And the fact is that it is very hard to avoid any of these costs or even minimise them. How can one not spend on something as essential as for one’s child,” the father-of-three said.

Ahmed’s daughters are enrolled at a private school in Abu Dhabi. The Indian curriculum school is known for its affordable fees and high education standards. Still, Ahmed pays annual tuition fees of Dh15,000 per child.


Annual tuition fees per child in a private school

“According to my calculations, I have to set aside 30 per cent of my salary every month to pay the tuition,” Ahmed said.

“The school allows us to pay fees quarterly, semi-annually and annually. I can’t afford to pay annually, so I pay them quarterly,” he added.

His daughters are enrolled in Grades 8, 6 and 3 at the school.

Tanvir Ahmed's daughters
Tanvir Ahmed's daughters are enrolled in Grades 8, 6 and 3. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Uniforms, books and stationery

Then there are other expenses to consider, including transportation, uniforms, books and separate outlays for extracurricular activities.

“Uniforms are worn every day and regularly washed. They get seriously worn out by the end of the year, so we have to buy two new sets for each child at the beginning of the academic year. And then there are separate sets of physical exercise uniforms to get, and new shoes,” Ahmed said.

In some cases, the family is able to forego buying shoes, especially if they still fit.

school stationery
Other expenses to consider include uniforms, books and separate outlays for extracurricular activities. Image Credit: Stock photo

“As growing children, they usually outgrow their footwear as well. But we have sometimes not had to buy shoes,” Ahmed said.

Stationery is another major outlay at the start of the academic year, but Ahmed gives his daughters a chance to buy the things they really want. This helps cope with peer-pressure based demands later in the year.

Quality purchases

“My daughters know that they are only allowed to buy one set of major school supplies a year, including schoolbags and pencil cases. I get them what they want, but we don’t entertain requests for new items during the rest of the year, unless of course something has been damaged,” the father said.

Ahmed also prefers to buy items of good quality, even if they can be more expensive.

“I find that cheaper items spoil quicker, and I would rather buy something that lasts for a year at least,” Ahmed said.

I find that cheaper items spoil quicker, and I would rather buy something that lasts for a year at least

- Tanvir Ahmed

Transportation is another cost the father cannot avoid. The school charges Dh375 per child to provide bus transport to and from school, and the cost does not change whether the family lives near the school or further away.

Still, the family moved to the suburb of Mohammad Bin Zayed City to be closer to the school. Ahmed said the journey by bus now takes 40 minutes one way for his daughters, whereas it used to take nearly 90 minutes each way when the family lived in downtown Abu Dhabi.

“Cost wasn’t a factor behind why we moved out to the suburbs. I just wanted my daughters to have an easier journey,” Ahmed said.

Lunches and meals

The family also prefers to send the girls with home-cooked meals to school.

By opting to provide homemade meals, we end up inadvertently saving on food-related costs

- Tanvir Ahmed, parent

“We simply feel that this food is safe to eat and healthier. On the rare occasion that my wife is unable to make food, we allow my girls to eat at the school canteen. But by opting to provide homemade meals, we also end up inadvertently saving on food-related costs,” Ahmed explained.

Miscellaneous costs

Over the years, schools in the UAE have also begun to charge a pretty penny for field trips and activities. Ahmed said he allows his daughters to go on these whenever possible, but only if they are themselves interested in the experience.

“I find that the costs of entry are cheaper when my daughters visit a place than when we take them ourselves, so why not,” he added.


Cost of an international trip per child from school

International trips, however, can be far too expensive to afford. Ahmed said trips proposed for his eldest to the United Kingdom and the States would have cost Dh7,000 each, and the family therefore chose not to spend on them.

Finally, the family also chooses not to host lavish birthday parties, instead organising simpler, more engaging get-togethers for the girls. These events can be hidden expenses for families with young children.

Tips on minimising education costs

  1. Opt for the best payment plan in collaboration with the school. Most schools offer flexible payment schedules.
  2. Buy good quality stationery. This way, items will last longer and save you from multiple purchases of the same items.
  3. Some items can be used for longer than a year, like shoes. See if you can avoid buying new ones at the start of every year.
  4. Save on transportation costs by living close to your school if possible.
  5. Provide homemade lunches; these help minimise additional costs and are healthier as well.
  6. Not every field trip or activity is fun for every child, so only spend on these if your children are interested.