DUBAI // Every year as school starts, the cost of education becomes the focal point of discussion as more and more parents feel the heat of increased fees.
School managements, however, say that fees are necessary to provide a good-quality education for pupils, and that much of their revenue goes towards school resources, including teachers' salaries.
About 900,000 children are expected to start school today. Some, mainly Emiratis, are eligible for state schools and can avoid the burden of fees. A bigger chunk, however, including Emiratis who prefer to enrol their children in private schools, face ever increasing bills.
Mrs T, a Jordanian who has lived in the UAE for the past 10 years, has noticed an increase in costs.
"Last year, I paid Dh1,200 for books," she said. "This year, it cost me around Dh2,000, which is too much. Books for schools should be free, or they should only cost a small amount."
Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec)intervened last week to prevent unauthorised charges of up to Dh11,000 for each pupil at the British International School in Abu Dhabi after a requested 5 per cent fee increase was rejected.
The school's tuition fees were already about Dh54,000 for grade 2, children aged 5 or 6, and Dh60,000 for grade 12.
All fees in the capital must be approved by Adec.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which oversees private schools in Dubai, said it takes the interest of all parties into consideration as part of its fee regulations.
"School fees in the upcoming years will continue to be governed by the fee framework that balances the needs of both school owners/investors and parents and their children," said Mohammed Darwish, chief of regulations and permits commission at KHDA.
"The fees in Dubai's private schools are regulated by the School Fees Framework," he said, which takes into consideration the quality of education provided by each school as well as annual education costs. In Dubai, fees have reached more than Dh60,000 for some schools, with one, Gems World Academy, an IB curriculum school, charging nearly Dh100,000.
But fees do vary across the country, depending on location and quality of education. Some schools charge as little as Dh2,312.
A report issued by the KHDA said parents of nearly half the pupils at private schools in Dubai pay less than Dh10,000 a year in tuition fees, and, with the exclusion of six no-fees schools, the overall average in Dubai would be Dh18,196 per year. This is an increase of 6 per cent over the 2011-2012 academic year.
The average is pushed down by schools following several Asian countries' curriculum, mainly Indian, which is taught to 30 per cent of pupils in Dubai. Fees at those schools are in the Dh11,000 to Dh18,000 range.
The three other dominant curriculums, English National Curriculum, American Curriculum and International Baccalaureate are much more expensive.
However, school managements say fees are necessary to maintain the quality of their operations.
"To employ the very top teaching talent we have to offer highly competitive rates of pay, plus benefits. Seventy to 80 per cent of a school's budget is usually allocated to staffing," said Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem, the second-largest private school operator.
"This cannot be done on the cheap. There is a worldwide shortage of teachers, we compete in a global market to attract and retain the very best of them."
Mr Pierrepont said schools in the UAE faced the specific challenge of being relatively new and commercially financed. They do not have institutional longevity, which might reduce annual costs, or government subsidies, grants or endowments.
* With additional reporting by Caline Malek