x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

School fees strike a nerve with perplexed parents

On the Money Since writing my column last week about my experiences with exorbitant school fees, I've heard from a lot of parents.

Every week, I have this tendency to go on and on about myself in this column. And it gets a little boring, mostly because I'd like to think that I'm not that self-centred.

I'm not really very comfortable talking about myself, especially week in and week out. But when you are writing a personal finance column, it's hard not to let your life or experiences creep into it.

These days, I'm feeling like I'm in the middle of a scene from that 1988 film Beaches, when CC Bloom (played by Bette Midler) says: "But enough about me, let's talk about you ... what do YOU think about me?"

Occasionally - OK, pretty much every week - I struggle to come up with a personal finance topic that's compelling enough to capture readers' attention.

That's not to say there's not a lot going on in the UAE - and there is: from banks gouging us with high fees and charging some of the world's highest interest rates, to enduring the roller-coaster ride of inflation over the past few years, the soaring prices of food and the high cost the global financial crisis has had on many people.

But if there's one topic that I've touched on that has garnered the biggest response, it has to be school fees. Which is why I'm writing about them again.

Since writing my column last week on my experiences with exorbitant school fees, false promises and the lack of quality education at my daughter's former school, I've heard from a lot of parents. Some wanted to know which school my daughter was now attending so they could apply for a place for their own child.

Others had real concerns, such as one parent who is sending their child to a school that has also been long promising a swimming pool. And it isn't the same school that my daughter used to attend.

Another is concerned that the school his daughter attends has applied to the Abu Dhabi Education Council to raise its fees to more than Dh66,000 for the next school year.

If granted, this would mark the second year in a row that this school has raised its fees.

"Most of the parents I've spoken to are leaving the school and are having to go back home," the parent, who doesn't want to be identified, says. "The principal takes the view that we are expats and we can afford it."

Profiteering is one word that some of the parents have used to describe their experiences with high school fees and the lack of quality they receive in return.

What I don't understand is that the education authorities have to approve the fees parents are being charged, as well as any increases the school might want to introduce in the future.

It would be interesting to know what the schools are telling the authorities to get their fee increases granted. What are they promising? And how are they proving that they are providing a good-quality education for the students when they are paying teachers so little?

Judging from the responses I've had from many parents this week, they are just as perplexed as I am.

My education problems might be over, but for two years, I did get the runaround from a school that promised a lot but delivered very little. When I challenged the principal of that school, daring to question the ethics of raising school fees in the middle of the summer holidays on the back of building a swimming pool that had been promised since 2008, he replied that there were special programmes for parents who couldn't afford school fees. Not once did I say in my correspondence with him that I couldn't afford his school's outrageous fees. Was he insulting me or did he just not get it?

This principal also described himself as the chief executive of the school. So the way I saw it, he was responsible for the financials.

He never did answer my question about what percentage of my fees had been going towards that much-promised pool since 2008.

As you know, it didn't matter in the end because my daughter was offered a place in what I believe to be one of the best schools in the capital. And that's all I cared about by that stage. My nightmare was over, but for many parents, they are still living it.

As a long-term expat, I always knew that I would have to pay for my child's education because she can't attend the local schools in the countries we live in. But in return for the money I pay, is it too much to expect that she has the right to receive a top-class education that is comparable with world standards?

We all have a right to that. Regardless of who we are and where we are from. And so do our children.

What are your experiences with schools in the UAE? Write to us at pf@thenational.ae