x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Parents offer to pay double tuition fees to keep Dubai school open

Education provider Gems has petitioned the KHDA to approve a fee increase so it can keep Westminster School in Dubai open.

Gems, the largest private education provider, said this week it will close the Westminster School in 2014, but today said if the KHDA approves a fee increase, it could stay open.
Gems, the largest private education provider, said this week it will close the Westminster School in 2014, but today said if the KHDA approves a fee increase, it could stay open.

DUBAI // Parents of pupils at a school threatened with closure have offered to pay double the existing tuition fees to keep it open.

The private schools operator Gems says Westminster School in Dubai will close in 2014 because its fees of Dh5,000 to Dh10,000 a year make the school financially unsustainable.

The British-curriculum school, which has nearly 5,000 pupils, has been rated only “acceptable” in four consecutive years of inspections by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which means it may not raise its fees by more than 3 per cent.

Now Gems has made a second appeal to KHDA, the private education regulator, for permission to raise fees to a level that will allow it to continue operating.

“Over the past few days we have received many calls from Westminster parents indicating that they would pay up to double the fees to keep the school open,” said a Gems spokesman.

“We have now submitted a new fee structure to the KHDA requesting a special concession to increase fees in a phased approach,” he said.

“Gems believes that even with this new fee structure the school will still be one of the more affordable K-12 British curriculum schools in Dubai.”

On Sunday, 25 parents met the chairman of Gems, Sunny Varkey, to discuss ways to keep the school running.

During inspections this year, inspectors said Westminster needed to improve its Islamic education and Arabic studies programmes, and provide more support for pupils with special needs. The school was also asked to improve the delivery of the curriculum in the foundation stages and develop the role of middle managers to raise teaching and learning standards.

Gems says KHDA’s fee regulations have hindered their efforts to improve standards and compete with newer institutions.

“It is important to note that the average fee for new low-cost British curriculum schools begins at Dh12,000 for kindergarten students rising to Dh20,000 for the older grades,” said a spokesman.

Whatever the outcome, parents will have to pay more. “Either they continue with increased fees or we find another school with higher fees,” said Sadia P, who has two children at the school.

A fee increase at Westminster, she said, would be the lesser of two evils. “If this school survives at least there will be some regulation of the fee increase. If a new Gems school replaces it, the fees will skyrocket because they will be allowed to open with whatever fee structure they want.”

Families affected by the closure have been told they will be given priority at other Gems schools, such as the Winchester School in Oud Metha and the Westminster in Sharjah. Fees at these schools are between Dh10,000 and Dh23,000.

At a push, Sadia says her family can pay between 10 and 20 per cent more in fees.

A Syrian father with three children at the school said he hoped the school would stay open because he had come to trust its quality.

“It took me two years to find Westminster,” he said. “Now to find another school and expect the same level of education and build the relationship with the staff is not easy. The children will also find it hard.”

This is not the first time a Gems school has challenged KHDA on its policies on fee increases.

Mr Varkey wrote an open letter to the authority in 2010 in which he said urgent solutions were needed to problems that challenge the existence of his schools.

“In the current circumstances a number of our schools have been driven to breaking point,” Mr Varkey wrote in the letter addressed to Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of KHDA.

“We can no longer commit to maintaining our own internal and KHDA quality standards … Consequently, it is highly likely that we will have no choice but to begin to close down nonviable schools over the next two years.”

After reaching an impasse with the authority, the group approached the Ministry of Education, which overruled the decision by the KHDA to freeze fees that year.

About five Indian curriculum schools under Gems were permitted fee increases of 30 per cent spread over three years.

aahmed@thenational.ae