x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Parents criticise school deposits of up to 30% of fees

The Ministry of Education says it has received complaints from parents who are being asked to pay deposits of up to 30 per cent to secure places for their children in private schools.

DUBAI // Parents who are being asked to pay thousands of dirhams as a down payment to secure a place for their children in private schools say that stricter regulations should be introduced to put a limitation on the amount.

Private school laws do not outline the terms of fee payment, and education providers can develop their own instalment plans.

The Ministry of Education said it had received complaints from parents about deposits.

"As the enrolment period has begun we see many parents who say they have to cough up a lot of money in advance, and it is a burden for them," said Ali Mihad Al Suwaidi, the assistant undersecretary of the Ministry of Education.

At some schools, he said, parents are forced to pay about 30-40 per cent of the tuition as a security measure.

One mother, NM, whose child attends a British curriculum primary school in Sharjah, said she had received a letter to pay Dh6,000 this month or forfeit her son's place.

"It's a really big amount to pay all at once," said NM. "The school's response is 'if you do not have the money, find another school'."

But Mr Al Suwaidi said: "We cannot intervene too much in the operations of private schools, but we want schools to understand this is unreasonable."

Mr Al Suwaidi said the practice of asking for almost half of the tuition before the summer holidays was taking a toll on families.

He declined, however, to identify an acceptable deposit amount. "At least with continuing parents, they should respect the relationship they have built with them over the years and reduce the amount."

Sharjah mother NM agreed, saying: "A small fee is fine, because the school needs to know that you are continuing. But this is too much."

An Emirati mother of two at an international school in Dubai said she spends Dh150,000 on tuition every year.

"Tuition fees are very high here and I feel parents shouldn't be compelled to pay so much money in bulk," she said.

She said paying in advance could create difficulties for expatriate parents who have to leave suddenly. "They might lose their job or get transferred and then they lose all that money."

A third parent, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the vague regulations were causing discrepancies between schools.

"School operators think they can take advantage of unclear laws and can trick parents," said the parent.

Clive Pierrepont, the director of communications at Taaleem, said they charge a small percentage of the annual school fee to secure a place for new registrations and continuing parents.

"In exceptional circumstances - that is, relocation or financial difficulties - we will refund these fees in full."

He said the down payment was a necessary step to ensure the financial viability of the institution.

"Currently schools are recruiting for a projected number of pupils for the next academic year, buying resources, implementing their development plans and recruiting staff," said Mr Pierrepont.

"Therefore, it is essential that parents who have accepted places in schools give a financial commitment to taking up the places offered in good faith by the schools."

He said it was difficult when parents accepted offers from multiple schools with little or no intention of taking up the places.

"If a financial commitment was not taken from parents, admissions demands would be almost unmanageable and waiting lists lengthened."

The Dubai Executive Council plans to announce a new private school fee framework soon. The regulations have been developed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in association with several other government organisations.

KHDA officials said the new guidelines will better define the contractual relation between schools and parents.