x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abu Dhabi parents turning to bank loans to cope with school fee rises

Parents in Abu Dhabi fear they will be unable to afford tuition fees after 30 private schools are given approval to increase their fees by up to 9 per cent.

ABU DHABI // As higher school fees place strains on families' finances, some say they may take out loans, some leave the country, but most will just muddle by.

In the latest broad fee increase, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) last week announced increases of up to 9 per cent at 30 private schools.

Amal Al Maamari, an Emirati with two children, aged 4 and 7, at the capital's British International School, said it was the second consecutive year the school had increased fees by 5 per cent.

This year her family will have to pay about Dh59,000 a child, and Mrs Al Maamari said she would be unable to afford any further increases "unless I get a job beside my husband".

Her third child is expected to join the school next year and her husband, who works at a university, is given a maximum allowance of Dh100,000 to cover all three children, which would leave them Dh77,000 short, even if there were no increase next year.

Christian Beguzman, a Filipino whose children, aged 3, 5 and 7, attend Giggles Primary School, said he would also find it hard to finance any increase.

Mr Beguzman said that last year he paid Dh10,000 a child, when expenses including transport and books were taken into account.

This year, he estimates he will have to pay about Dh15,000 for each child when rising costs and fee increases were taken into account.

Other parents are still reeling from fee increases introduced in previous years.

Paul Dessoir, a US expatriate who has lived in the UAE for seven years, said last year's 15 per cent increase at Al Ain English Speaking School had "caused problems".

This year will cost him a little over Dh33,000 for his daughter, 12, and Dh29,000 for his son, 9.

Mr Dessoir, who works at UAE University, Al Ain, said the increase came "pretty much out of my pocket" as his employer covered the education costs of only one child.

He said some people with more than two children had left their jobs as a result of the increases because they "just couldn't afford it".

Adec did not reply to a request for comment.

Parents struggling to meet the fees can turn to specially tailored bank loans aimed at funding high school education, but at a cost of up to 12 per cent interest.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) and Barclays are among the banks offering such loans.

Sundar Parthasarathy, head of consumer assets at ADCB, which charges between 10 and 12 per cent, said the reason for the high rates was the lack of collateral, such as a house in the case of a mortgage.

Mr Parthasarathy said not many parents had used the loan scheme since its launch three years ago.

"It's not a great number but it meets our expectations," he said.

Mr Parthasarathy said the UAE was different from other countries as most people had "far better salaries so they can actually save for education purposes".

At Barclays, Venky Srikantan, head of retail and business banking, said interest rates on school loans ranged from 9 to 10 per cent if the applicant's salary was being transferred to Barclays, and up to 16 per cent if the repayment was through post-dated cheques.

The bank pays the fees directly to the schools according to their academic fee schedule.

Clive Pierrepont, the director of communications at Taaleem, which manages 10 schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said loans were a "smart way of planning your finances".

Mr Pierrepont said it spread the cost over the course of a year enabling parents to "plan sensibly for the year ahead".

He said they were particularly helpful for people who found themselves in "dire straits".

The American Academy in Dubai, a Taaleem school, charges Dh55,385 a year for Years 9 to 12. But the accounts officer Dari Pimenta said the fees had not prompted parents to take a loan.

"We have plans that provide education loans but so far no one has come to us for a loan," Ms Pimenta said.

For many parents, such a loan would be a last resort.

Mr Dessoir said he would never take a loan at the current rates.

"I don't know how you would be able to pay for the next semester with those rates," he said. "You'd have to be really desperate."

molson@thenational.ae