x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

On the Money: Rise in school fees should be reflected in quality of education

If I have to pay tens of thousands of dirhams a year for my child's schooling, then I expect - and rightly so - good quality, excellent teachers and fabulous facilities.

OK, I'm just going to come right out and say it. School fees. Yes, we are back to one of my favourite topics thanks to the recent announcement that private schools in Dubai have been given permission by the education authority to hike their fees for the 2012-2013 school year.

I know, I know. Many of us are tired of paying the already high fees for our children's education. Throw in the divisive question of quality and it brings tears of frustration to some parents' eyes when they think about the amount they are paying compared with the quality (or lack thereof) of education their children are receiving.

But that is the life of the expat: you have to expect (and plan) to pay for your children's education because it is highly unlikely they will attend a state school - and it doesn't matter which country you are living in when it comes to this. Unless, of course, you've been posted to a country that speaks the same language as you.

Some employers might ease the financial burden and either contribute to or pay for all of your children's school fees. But with expat packages shrinking, salaries stagnating and the cost of living rising, this is becoming something of a rarity in the world of remuneration for overseas postings.

Which means that many of us have to work and save hard to meet the financial obligations of educating our kids.

I've always taken a hard line on quality versus cost. If I have to pay, for instance, tens of thousands of dirhams a year for my child's schooling, then I expect - and rightly so - good quality, excellent teachers and fabulous facilities.

I am one of the lucky parents in the Emirates; my child goes to what I believe is one of the best schools in Abu Dhabi. The facilities are great, the teachers are motivated and involved and the numerous after-school activities are fun and interesting. The fees I pay for her to attend the school are very reasonable when you consider the quality we receive in return.

It wasn't always this way and we had a difficult, two-year experience with another school before we finally found what was right for us, which makes me even more grateful for what we have now.

But others are not always so fortunate. The tight squeeze for places, which has led to the extraordinary introduction of lottery-type placements in some schools, means that many parents are being forced to lower their expectations in a desperate bid just to get their child educated, all the while paying through the nose for that privilege.

On April 9, The National reported that schools in Dubai had been given the go-ahead by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) to raise their fees for the next school year.

The news report, by Afshan Ahmed, our education reporter, said the fee structure would be "based on school inspection grades and an educational cost index calculated by the Dubai Statistics Centre".

So schools that were rated in the "acceptable" and "unsatisfactory" categories can increase fees by 3 per cent. Schools with a "good" ranking can raise their fees by 4.5 per cent and "outstanding" schools can hike theirs by 6 per cent.

In the story, one parent of a child at Dubai Modern High School, which has been ranked "outstanding", questioned the impending fee rises, saying it was a "disadvantage that the school had received the highest marks if an increase was the outcome".

"And I don't see the need because between then and now, there does not seem to be any drastic change in the school's efforts to justify the increase," they added.

Good point. If a school is ranked "outstanding", shouldn't they also be required to boost the level of their education in return for the fee rise? And how do you justify a fee rise if a school is ranked "unsatisfactory"? More to the point, how can an "unsatisfactory" school be allowed to continue to operate, let alone take on the huge responsibility of educating our future generations?

According to Booz & Co, the international research firm, the private and public school market in the GCC is expected to boom in the coming decade and will be worth a staggering US$90 billion (Dh330bn) by 2020.

In a report, titled A Decade of Opportunity: The Coming Expansion of the Private School Market in the GCC, Booz & Co said expatriates in the UAE currently spend about $4,363 a year on private education. However, the report, released last October, also said that expats in the UAE were willing to spend up to $11,471 a year on private education.

I don't know the demographic of people Booz & Co questioned for its study (except that they were expats), but do I know there's a lot of parents in the Emirates who would struggle to pay $11,471 - or Dh42,135 - a year for their children's education. Then again, that's assuming they've found a place for them.


What do you think about school fee rises and the quality of education in the UAE? Let us know at pf@thenational.ae.