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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Dubai private schools must diversify or make prices more competitive, experts say

A study on the emirate's private education landscape by KHDA showed that the sector had grown but school capacities had dropped

Fiona McKenzie, director of Gabbitas Middle East, said parents have become increasingly conscious of tuition fees as the cost of living steadily increases.  Pawan Singh / The National 
Fiona McKenzie, director of Gabbitas Middle East, said parents have become increasingly conscious of tuition fees as the cost of living steadily increases.  Pawan Singh / The National 

The average private school pupil in Dubai does their homework, reads for pleasure and has breakfast most days a week before going to their UK curriculum school that costs less that Dh20,000 a year.

That is according to the 2017-2018 Dubai Private Education Landscape Report conducted by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and released on Sunday.

The study assesses the health and happiness of the pupils from more than 180 nationalities that attend the emirate’s private schools.

The results show that Dubai’s private education sector has steadily grown for another consecutive year to include 194 schools, up from 173 in 2016. The new schools cater to the increased number of pupils with enrolment up almost 10,000 from 273,599 last year.

Annual tuition fee revenue has also increased to Dh7.5 billion, from Dh6.8bn last year. The average cost of private school tuition was calculated at Dh26,865 per year though almost half (47 per cent) of pupils pay more than Dh20,000 annually in fees. Less pupils (42.5 per cent) paid more than Dh20,000 per year in fees last year, likely indicating that tuition has become more expensive.

Alvaro Sanmarti / The National
Alvaro Sanmarti / The National

Fiona McKenzie, director of Gabbitas Middle East, an educational consultant based in Dubai, said tuition has been a sensitive issue for the past few years as parents become increasingly conscious of the steadily increasing cost of living.

“Whereas in the past parents would have thought nothing of spending Dh90,000 on education, now they think I could go to a school that charges Dh30,000 a head and get three of my children educated,” said Ms McKenzie.

“It’s expensive to live in Dubai and school fees are expensive and lots of parents are not used to paying school fees. Many parents move here from countries where they don’t have to pay for education at all,” she said.

“We are definitely seeing more families saying we don’t want to go the premium route,” she said.

The increased number of schools opening is healthy for competition and could help reduce overall costs of tuition, Ms McKenzie said.

“Repton School, Formarke School and Horizon International School have all brought their fees down this year because they want to be more competitive. Lots of schools are now offering scholarships.”

Greater competition is also forcing schools to specialise. While some chose to focus on special needs others are looking to adopt a sustainability agenda.

Alvaro Sanmarti / The National
Alvaro Sanmarti / The National

The market is maturing and schools have to be clear of their identities, Ms McKenzie said.

The report also revealed that, despite higher levels of enrolment overall, schools have fallen further beneath their maximum capacity.

While schools were 88.6 per cent capacity in 2016, they have dropped to 85 per cent this year, indicating an oversupply of schools.

“They are using less of their capacity this year than they were last year. This is probably due to the fact that more schools have opened.

“On average, across the schools of Dubai, 85 per cent of the places are filled. This means 15 per cent of them are not. That reflects what we see in the market at the moment, there is a bit of an oversupply, which really changes the dynamics of the school. The schools now have to be much more competitive about recruiting pupils,” said Ms McKenzie.

It may also be an indication of the high cost in tuition. As pupils advance and the cost of tuition increases with each year, families tend to go back to their home countries to save on expenses.

David Cook, headmaster at Repton School Dubai, said the increase in the number of schools was down to “owners and developers believing there is still a demand for high-quality schools.”

Repton is not at full capacity but has experienced an increase in applicants since reducing fees.

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Read more:

More than 20 Dubai schools freeze or lower fees

Dubai parents hail school fees freeze — but expert warns quality of education could be at risk

National Editorial: An expensive education is not necessarily the best

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“Repton School reduced the fees for the senior school and froze it in the junior school. We were the first school to do that in the autumn term. We wanted to make sure that our schools are affordable. We are charging a premium fee and we do understand that in challenging economic times, we want to help parents to still send their children to outstanding schools,” he said.

Sheela Menon, principal at Ambassador School said that despite her school not working at full capacity, she saw more schools coming up.

“The education sector is one where the demand will never come down.

“Fluctuation happens but the market has not stagnated. There is a consistent demand for seats in the school. There is a shift in looking at lower fee structure of schools. There is no doubt that that is coming up,”

The school has seen parents forced to take admission in other schools because of high fees.

“Sometimes it’s painful that they have to move out as they can’t afford it,” she said.