x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

School fees too high, most parents believe

A new survey finds most people approve of schools in the Emirates, but an overwhelming percentage of parents say they cost too much.

ABU DHABI // Most parents are satisfied with the quality of education at UAE schools and universities, but nearly nine out of 10 believe it costs too much, according to a survey for The National. Eighty-eight per cent of parents with children enrolled in nurseries, schools or universities said fees were extremely or a little expensive, according to the survey by YouGov, an international research organisation.

Only 12 per cent said schools were good value or very reasonable. "There's no doubt that education [in the UAE] is terribly overpriced," said Dr Clifton Chadwick, a senior lecturer in international education management at the British University in Dubai. "You pay Dh30,000 for an education which for the most part is just OK, nothing outstanding," he said. "I can only think of a few exceptions." Concerns over fees were tempered, however, by a perception that the quality of education was good.

Fifty-eight per cent of parents with children currently or previously enrolled in school were extremely or somewhat satisfied with the education their child received. Only 29 per cent were somewhat or extremely dissatisfied. "The quality is definitely good," said Jaya Bhatia, a Indian businesswoman who lives in Dubai and has two daughters, aged six and 10. "We are satisfied with the quality, but for that level we're paying more over here. It's expensive."

Dr Chadwick said most people believe their children receive a good education, no matter where they live. "If you look at surveys round the world, people worry about education but they think the education their own child is getting is fairly good. That's a fairly reliable finding," he said. School and university students surveyed felt good about their education, too 65 per cent were somewhat or extremely positive about their experiences with UAE education, and only 15 per cent were somewhat or extremely negative.

On the issue of fees, 55 per cent of people with children in education thought the cost was extremely expensive, and 33 per cent said it was a little expensive. Financial concerns were consistent across national groups: 96 per cent of Arab expatriates, 93 per cent of Asians, 83 per cent of Westerners and 72 per cent of Emiratis described fees as extremely or a little expensive. On average, parents reported a 28 per cent increase in fees over the past three years.

For the most part, private education providers were not profiteering, Dr Chadwick said. Instead, fees were driven up by the cost of flying in teachers from overseas and, in many cases, paying their housing costs. "It makes for an expensive package even if they don't pay that much to the teachers," he said. The survey, which interviewed 838 people from October 15 to 19, also found that parents were generally positive about the direction in which the country's education system was moving.

Just over half (53 per cent) said education had improved a little or significantly in the past five years, with only in five (20 per cent) saying it had become a little or significantly worse. The survey paints a picture of a well-educated population: more than half (54 per cent) of respondents held a bachelor's degree, with a further fifth (19 per cent) holding a higher degree such as a master's or a doctorate.

An additional eight per cent had a professional qualification and six per cent have a vocational college education. Only 12 per cent said a school education was their highest form of studying. dbardlsey@thenational.ae