Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Cost-effective new Dubai schools looking to an affordable future

Educators in the emirate believe the quality of children’s education should not be determined by how much their parents can spend

Nigel Cropley, principal of Gems Founders School Al Mizhar says an affordable model of education is proving attractive to parents. Reem Mohammed / The National  
Nigel Cropley, principal of Gems Founders School Al Mizhar says an affordable model of education is proving attractive to parents. Reem Mohammed / The National  

New Dubai schools are offering more affordable education as the demand for 'high-end' facilities hits saturation point.

Thirteen new private schools opened this year alone taking the emirate's roster to 206 with a growing trend to move to a more affordable price bracket in order to find a place in a competitive market.

Of the new schools, Bright Riders School is the most reasonably priced, with annual fees ranging from Dh19,000 to Dh30,000.

School places at Gems Founders School Al Mizhar can be secured for between Dh23,000 and Dh35,000, while Dwight School Dubai and Brighton College Dubai are the most expensive newcomers, with annual fees of Dh66,000 to Dh103,000 and Dh64,000 to Dh107,000 respectively.

Nigel Cropley, principal of Gems Founders School Al Mizhar, says the school cut costs by not building a bespoke auditorium or having a swimming pool, with those savings reflected in the fee structure.

Mr Cropley says the affordable model has paid off, as the school opened with 1,576 pupils - exceeding the expectations of starting off with 1,000 filling the classrooms.

“Top-end schools with high fees have reached a ceiling. Top-end new schools are not going to be opening with 1,600 pupils. I think it’s the affordability along with the reputation that makes it an attractive model,” said Mr Cropley.

“The Founders Model focuses on staff and facilities with an international mix of teachers, some having a lot of experience and some not having much experience.

“Although the facilities are great, perhaps we don’t have those high-end facilities.”

It is a trend that has also been mirrored in Abu Dhabi, where schools ranked 'outstanding' in government assessments while offering more affordable rates.

Joanne Wells, principal at South View School, said the school has about 175 pupils and is opening up to Year 7 at the moment.

"Our fees are mid-range and we are starting out at about Dh43,000. We saw that for the school to grow and settle itself into the market in a good way, it would have to be affordable,” said Ms Wells.

She said a lot of parents feel "held to ransom" by the prohibitive costs of the most expensive schools in the city.

“We have recognised that a lot of people are held to ransom because they have to make very expensive choices to make sure their children stand a chance. A lot of parents feel like they are getting pushed into a corner.”

The educator, who has 30 years of experience, said the quality of a child's education should not be determined by how much money their parents can afford to spend.

The school is aiming to provide premium education at reasonable prices.

While some schools choose to hire the most experienced staff, Ms Wells believes in hiring a balance of recently qualified teachers and more experienced ones.

“That will have a positive impact on your budget,” she said.


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Heads of new schools opening this academic year have been pleased with the response they have received from the public so far.

Bill Delbrugge, director at Dunecrest American School, said the school will open in two phases.

Phase one is built for 1,200 pupils and later it will be able to accommodate up to 1,500 youngsters.

For the first year the school has about 180 pupils and they hope to grow it to about 250.

“Whether the market is saturated or not, there a niche for people who want to do things first class,” he said.

“We don’t want a school to end up becoming a factory. Whether we have 200 pupils or 1,500 pupils we will still teach in the same way. We are still going to work on children’s characters as much as we work on their English or mathematics abilities. What we look at is that we are building leaders and humans for the future,” Mr Delbrugge said.

Wayne Howsen, principal at The Aquila School, said they have less than 150 pupils but their capacity is 576 in the first year.

“We try to keep things simple. We want children to be happy at school, we want them to be safe and take part in amazing learning experiences. If we do that, our job is done,” Mr Howsen said.

Graeme Scott, director at Fairgreen International School, said the school has a capacity of 1,150, but it has 200 pupils.

“We are very happy with that number,” Mr Scott said.

David Hicks, principal at Al Barsha's Dubai International Academy, said they opened with 500 pupils and are delighted by the response from the community.

“Parents and pupils buy into the fact that it’s a school not purely driven by academics.

“We have seats available but the numbers are growing steadily. One of the advantages we have got is the legacy and history of DIA in Emirates Hills," Mr Hicks said.

A number of schools have come to UAE with a history of provision in the US and UK.

“That doesn’t always transfer overseas. Unlike other schools built here on the legacy of an overseas reputation, we are building on the success of a Dubai school and we know the model is successful,” Mr Hicks said.

Updated: October 16, 2018 05:42 PM