x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Parents of Dubai school push for fee hike again to keep school open

A parents' committee at Westminster school says it has agreed to an 80 per cent fee rise spread over four years to allow the school to regain financial stability.

The Westminster School in Dubai is at risk of closing down after the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) ruled that it cannot raise fees by more than 3 per cent. Razan Alzayani / The National
The Westminster School in Dubai is at risk of closing down after the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) ruled that it cannot raise fees by more than 3 per cent. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // Parents at a Dubai school that is set to close next year have again pleaded with the education authority to allow a fee increase for its survival.

Gems last December announced the closure of Westminster, a British curriculum school, after 17 years.

Gems said the school had become “financially unviable” as it could not increase fees by more than 3 per cent under a Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) framework.

The school this week sent a circular to parents, repeating the decision to close.

“The timeline for the closure remains on track for June 2014 and no new enrolment has been registered since,” said Neville Sherman, the principal.

“As many of you may be aware, based on your feedback, Gems has proposed a new fee structure to the local authorities and we will keep you informed of progress.”

A parents’ committee formed to negotiate with operators said it had agreed to an 80 per cent fee rise spread over four years to allow the school to regain financial stability.

The school now charges between Dh5,000 and Dh10,000 a year in tuition fees.

“More than 75 per cent of the parent body signed the petition and it was submitted to the rightful authorities,” said Busha Ali, a former student and active member of the school committee.

Ms Ali said it was a tough decision for parents to make but it would be even harder to find an affordable alternative when the school shut.

“We gave in to the pressure for one reason alone: there is no alternative,” she said. “This is the most viable option, considering the costs and complications involved.”

Dr Fahed Mustafa, the father of a Grade 1 pupil at the school, agreed that looking for another school would be a bigger burden.

“Our primary goal is to save the school from closure, so if the authorities allow a 20 per cent increase every year, payment is manageable,” Dr Mustafa said.

Moving children to a new school now would be more expensive, he said, “especially for parents with several children. This increase will still come up to less.”

Westminster has only ever received an Acceptable rating since KHDA inspections began in 2009. Fee regulations in Dubai link increases to the inspection results and inflation in the sector.

The official inflation rate for running a school was calculated at minus 1 per cent this year, meaning no schools will be able to increase fees.

And operators of schools that consistently score below Good and Outstanding in inspections said it was difficult to raise standards on a low fees, ultimately pushing affordable schooling out of the market.

More than seven schools catering to low and middle-income families have closed down in the past three years after poor ratings.

If the status quo continues, the New Indian Model School may be next to shut, said its principal, Dr Mohammed Khan.

“Yes, it is a possibility if we cannot realise our costs, and if we are unable to meet standards then we continually find ourselves here,” Dr Khan said.

The school educates 6,700 children and needs to recoup Dh5 million for a new wing that opened last year, but has not received permission for a fee increase.

Although it was granted a 3 per cent increase, with fees between Dh2,700 and Dh4,500 the school would only be able to ask parents for D15 more.

“Even a 10 per cent increase will be around Dh30, which I believe parents can afford,” said Dr Khan. “We hope the authorities support us in the situation.”

aahmed@thenational.ae