DUBAI // Private schools have again been told they may not raise school fees this year, in the latest of a series of conflicting decisions by different education authorities.
The Dubai Executive Council yesterday froze fees for the academic year 2011-2012 after a recommendation by the Social Development Committee, one of the bodies set up in January to streamline decision-making in the emirate.
The freeze contradicts a Ministry of Education ruling last month allowing some schools to raise fees by 10 per cent a year over three years.
That decision in turn overruled a ban imposed on fee increases last year by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which oversees education in the emirate, on the ground that they were unjustified in a difficult economic climate. The KHDA has received fee increase requests from 29 schools this year.
Parents said yesterday they appreciated the move to contain the escalating cost of education. Schools struggling to improve quality but unable to raise funds to do so warned that the freeze would make matters worse.
"I was expecting the school to raise the fees this year, giving all sorts of justifications and then getting their way as well," said Mohammed Usman, a father of two at a British curriculum school. "Now I can relax."
Murial Landais, whose daughter is at a school that follows a US curriculum, said it was "excellent news". "The school did increase the fees last year and it is not justified that they get to increase it every year," she said.
Principals trying to improve standards and meet KHDA inspection requirements said their plans would suffer because of the fee freeze.
Dr Mohammed Aslam Khan, principal of the New Indian Model School, which was rated "acceptable" this year, said they needed the added funds to meet the authority's expectations.
"We need to put in more sports facilities, computers and interactive technology to boost our teaching and assessment, which is what was recommended by the KHDA," he said. The school's fees range from Dh2,500 to Dh4,400 for KG1 to Grade 12, and Dr Mohammed said they were hoping for a 10 to 15 per cent increase in the coming academic year.
"Our fee structure is so low the increase would mean an extra Dh20 per month," he said. "We had discussed this with the parents who said it was fine for the cause of improvement."
When the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) concluded its first inspections of the emirate's schools in 2009, it announced that fee increases would be based on the performance of schools. School that did well would receive an increase of 15 to 12 per cent and those that were just meeting standards or underperforming would get a 7 to 10 per cent increase. However, last year KHDA stopped all schools from increasing their fees, calling it "unjustifiable" given the economic climate.
Some schools, including five under the Gems education group, were granted fee increases after the Minister of Education overruled the local authority's decision.
The decision by the government to freeze fee increases again this year has come as a "shock" to some education providers.
Vatsala Mathai, principal of The Elite English Speaking School said: "This fee increase, if granted would have come after three years and would essentially go towards increase teachers salaries."
The school charges between Dh4,600 and Dh5,500 for a year's tuition.
Ms Mathai said it was becoming difficult to recruit good quality teachers at such low salary scales.
Taaleem education group, the only other education provider to be granted a fee increase by the ministry last year, had applied for an increase at two of its schools this year too.
Clive Pierrepont, director of communications of the group, called for a move towards a deregulated system.
"Effective schools have business plans that are realistic about fee income," he said. "If this deregulation occurs, we hope that parents would have sufficient information and choice to be able to discriminate between the profiteers and pioneers in education."