x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Parents left anxious over rises in fees

Many parents with children at private schools are concerned they may still have to pay higher fees, amid continuing uncertainty over exactly which schools have permission to raise their prices.

SHARJAH // Many parents with children at private schools are concerned they may still have to pay higher fees, amid continuing uncertainty over exactly which schools have permission to raise their prices. A special Sharjah Education Zone (SEZ) committee last week ruled that 23 of the 30 private schools whose applications it had examined would be allowed to raise fees.

The list has not yet been made public and officials said they were still looking into other applications - a total of 54 schools had applied to increase their fees, some by almost a third. The SEZ had told those schools whose proposed price rises had been approved, and they in turn had told parents, the officials said. But other schools that raise fees without official permission face fines of up to Dh10,000 (US$2,700), according to Fawzeya al Gharib, the head of the SEZ.

"When we receive a complaint from parents, we send our investigators to follow up on the claims," she said. "Once it's established the increases are illegal, we take the school administration to our department of legal affairs." The Australian International School has already been forced to climb down after posting increased fees on its website without approval. The rises included an increase in first-grade fees to Dh25,000 from this year's Dh21,600; grade seven fees to Dh33,500 from Dh30,000; and grade 12 fees to Dh45,000 from Dh42,000.

One father of a child at the school, who requested anonymity, said he had been surprised to see the increases because the school had raised its fees in 2008 and under Ministry of Education rules it could not do so again this year. Dr Uthman Sharif, director of the school's governing body, said the increases had been removed from the website because the SEZ had not yet agreed to them. He said the school's relatively high fees were justified because it was the only one in the emirate to teach the Australian curriculum.

It is not just the school fees that are going up. Some ancillary costs are also rising, sometimes steeply. Noor International School, for example, announced recently it would increase the charges for travelling on the school bus service by almost 40 per cent; as of this month, each pupil must pay Dh2,500 a term, up from Dh1,800. Tariq Ismail al Shaikh, director of the school, said the bus hire company had doubled the cost to more than Dh20,000 per month, leaving the school with no option but to pass on some of the increase.

"This was not a profit-driven move," he said. "We rent up to 40 buses to transport more than 4,500 students to our school." Umm Mazen, the mother of one of the pupils, said she felt betrayed that the school, which had earlier asked parents to support its application to the MoE for a 30 per cent rise in school fees, had simply increased the bus charge without consulting parents. Another parent, Mahmoud al Hajj, who has three children at the school, said: "We went to this school because we thought it was cheaper compared to other schools.

"Now we find ourselves at a crossroads because the school fees and bus fares almost exceed those at all other schools." @Email:ykakande@thenational.ae