x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fees, fees everywhere, but no school pool in sight

On the Money What happened at my daughter's school could have been disastrous for the personal finances of some families and possibly even their child's education.

Gary Clement for The National (w)
Gary Clement for The National (w)

What's the biggest issue you face with your personal finances every year? For some, it might be keeping up with credit-card payments or ensuring car loans are paid on time. For others, it could be paying a year's rent up front.

For most, it is probably a combination of all of the above.

But throw in the high cost of school fees in the UAE and you can find yourself in a precarious balancing act, never really knowing when somebody will decide to raise them. Why? Let's take a look at an interesting lesson I learnt a while ago.

Last year - in the middle of the summer holidays, mind you - parents at my daughter's school received an e-mail from the principal telling us that our fees were going up for the 2010-2011 school year. This is despite the fact that we'd already been invoiced, when classes broke up for the summer.

I could rant about the ethics of this until I am blue in the face (was it timed to coincide with many parents being out of the country and, therefore, less able to organise a unified protest?), but I've managed to let it go. Well, kind of. OK, not. I was angry because the reason given to us for the rise in fees was to build a much-needed swimming pool in the grounds of the school.

That is what I was promised at the beginning of 2008, when I had no option but to enrol my daughter at this school because there were no more places left elsewhere. The registrar explained to me at the time that the reason the school's fees were already so high (a little over Dh53,000 a year!) was because the school was building a swimming pool that would be ready for the start of the 2008-2009 school year. Fabulous, I remember thinking at the time.

By the time the 2008-2009 school year rolled around, there was no sign of a swimming pool. Not even a hint of one, like a hole in the ground. Come the next school year, 2009-2010, the swimming pool had still not materialised. And then, we received that e-mail from the principal telling us that fees were going up because the school was building a swimming pool.

I am sure you can understand why I was angry.

Ethics aside, my point here is that even though we'd been invoiced, we couldn't rely on what we'd been told, or at least read. And, thanks to the timing of the e-mail, we were left with no options, such as the luxury of contacting other schools to see if they had places available.

Some people are lucky and have their children's school fees paid for by their company, in which case, a surprise rise in fees, such as the one at my daughter's school, probably wouldn't have raised an eyebrow (although, hopefully, the ethics of it should have).

But there are many more people in the UAE who don't have this benefit as part of their salary package and have to carefully plan all their financial outgoings.

What happened at my daughter's school could have been disastrous for the personal finances of some families and possibly even their child's education.

It is coming up to that time of year again, when the current school year is almost over and parents are bracing themselves for a rise in fees. However, Dubai parents have nothing to fear - unless their children attend a GEMS or Taaleem school.

The National reported on May 11 that the executive council this year ruled that all schools in Dubai could not raise their tuition fees for the 2011-2012 academic year. But the Ministry of Education overruled that decision and gave two of the emirate's largest school operators - GEMS and Taaleem - permission to raise their fees by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent.

At least the parents of children attending those schools know how much more they are paying and can plan accordingly.

After a few very disappointing e-mail exchanges with the principal about the ethics of the fee rise (not to mention the fact that some parents, including me, had been paying for that long-promised pool since 2008), I was fortunate that I could vote with my feet after being offered a place elsewhere.

Best of all? The fees are nearly Dh20,000 cheaper and the quality of education is far superior. Oh, and it has a pool and an excellent swimming programme already in place.