x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Authorities block school's fee hike

Education authorities in Dubai reject a private school's attempt to reach a deal with parents in a controversy over increases in fees.

DUBAI // Education authorities in Dubai yesterday rejected a private school's attempt to reach a deal with parents in a controversy over increases in fees. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) released a statement saying that Dubai Modern High School could not increase its fees by 25 per cent in the next academic year and by 16 per cent the year after if it remained at its current premises.

In an e-mail circulated to parents, the school's owner, Global Education Management Systems (Gems), had suggested the increases as an alternative to moving to a new facility, which it said would lead to a rise of 90 per cent in fees over two years. Since it was announced several weeks ago, the proposed 90 per cent increase has provoked protests from parents who said they could not pay the higher charges.

In the statement, Mohammed Darwish, the KHDA's chief of licensing and customer relations, said that if the school remained at its current location, the authority's forthcoming decision on fee increases at private schools would apply and the school could not introduce higher price rises to cover increases in its rental costs. "They will be treated on a par with every other private school," he said. "Any negotiations for the land rent increase for the present premises may be subject to the final decisions by the relevant government authorities. This rent increase cannot be passed on to parents."

Mr Darwish said the KHDA would decide after an inspection whether the new premises were suitable to move into, although he said the authority was "quite doubtful" they would be ready by April 5, when the new term starts. If Gems decided to press ahead with moving to new premises, he said fees would have to remain as they were until the move, after which the 90 per cent increase would be allowed over two years. If the school remained at its current site, he said, it would be subject to the KHDA's forthcoming decision on fees.

The long dispute over the increase had seemed close to resolution earlier yesterday after a meeting between parents and representatives of the school management. Parents who had entered the meeting grim-faced left 90 minutes later happier after discussions at Gems headquarters with the company's chairman, Sunny Varkey, and senior management. Dipen Mehta, a father of a second-grade pupil and a member of the school's parents' committee, was one of the eight who attended the meeting. "It was very positive," he said. "It was a proper dialogue for the first time with the senior people involved. They were willing to listen to us and it ended on a very positive note."

The meeting had been hastily organised between the parents and the school's principal, Darryl Bloud, following the e-mail sent to parents late on Monday. The e-mail said there was a possibility that the planned eviction of the school could be revoked after "reconsideration by the landlord" but the parents would need to show majority support by 8am this morning for a fee rise of 25 per cent for the coming academic year and a further 16 per cent rise the next year, which were necessary to cover rent increases for the current premises and fund competitive salaries for teachers.

In a statement released yesterday evening, Dino Varkey, the senior director of business development for Gems Education, said the company was "disappointed" at the KHDA's response following the "very positive and productive" meetings it held with parents earlier in the day. "To stay on the current site we are dependent on KHDA agreeing to a fee increase that takes into account the rent and other costs, such as teacher salaries," he said. "If this is not forthcoming, we will move to the new site in Nad al Sheba which will offer world-class education."

loatway@thenational.ae dbardsley@thenational.ae