School operator Gems to 'means-test' parents before cutting tuition fees
Gems is the largest education provider in the UAE and operates more than 250 schools in 13 countries
The UAE's largest school operator has announced it will "means-test" parents before considering cutting tuition fees.
Gem Education said families who had been "adversely impacted" by the coronavirus pandemic may be in line for support.
The move sparked criticism from some parents, coming after other schools in the Emirates agreed to reduce fees by as much as 50 per cent for all pupils, regardless of financial circumstances.
It was confirmed this week that distance learning will continue in schools until the end of the academic year.
A spokesperson for Gems, which manages more than 250 schools across the globe serving about 174,000 pupils, said relief packages would be focused on those who have lost jobs, been placed on unpaid leave or suffered pay cuts.
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“We are conscious of the economic and financial impact that the global shutdown has caused on so many, including our own families," a Gems Education spokesperson said.
“We are committed to offering tuition fee relief to those families that have been adversely impacted by Covid-19.
"In view of this, we have announced a deferment of fees, payment plans or discounts for families who have lost their jobs, had salary cuts or been placed on unpaid leave at this point in time as a direct result of the Covid 19 outbreak.
"We are also waiving all registration fees, assessments and administration fees until further notice.
"This means-tested approach will allow us to allocate our relief efforts to those most in need during these unprecedented times, while retaining all of our teachers and managing our cost base.
“We have started to share the relief package application process with our parents."
Some schools in Dubai such as Safa Community School and Dubai English Speaking School have offered a 20 per cent discount to reduce economic burden on families.
A letter sent to parents of pupils at Jumeriah College, operated by Gems, highlighted the importance of ensuring staff are paid but said aid would be offered to hard-pressed parents.
"Almost 100 per cent of our costs are fixed or contractual. We are yet to receive any payment relief from our landlords or service providers. We must retain our teachers and staff who are working tirelessly to ensure seamless learning for all our students," stated the letter which was seen by The National.
"We also encourage those who are eligible to apply for the numerous measures that have been put in place by UAE banks to support customers, including interest-free instalment plans for all school fee payments made by credit card," read the letter.
Earlier this year, a financial expert told The National UAE parents paying for tuition fees by credit card could face mountain of debt.
Nearly six in 10 parents choose credit cards to pay hefty tuition fee, according to Taaleem, an education provider in the UAE with 13 schools and over 12,000 pupils under its umbrella.
Banks in the UAE can take legal action against those who fail to keep up with their payments.
Victoria, a British working mother-of-three children in Dubai said her family is struggling as they have taken salary cuts and are due to pay Dh52,000 in school fees for the third term at Gems schools.
"Both of us have taken pay cuts and my salary has been reduced by 25 per cent,” said Victoria, who asked for her surname not to be published.
"We have been waiting like everyone else to see what they would do to help parents across the country. We have taken such a hit with salaries.
"No one is criticising the teachers or the schools but we are criticising the fact that we have to pay 100 per cent of the fees.
"We got letters from the schools telling us we could apply for help, but we are not guaranteed help.
"We are being encouraged to pay fees with credit cards, which I find unbelievable. Who in their right mind encourages you to take on debt to pay for school fees?"
An Indian mother, 39, who lives in Dubai with her husband said he might have his pay cut by 40 per cent next month.
They still owe Dh25,000 for their daughter’s third term of school and Dh4,000 per month for their son, both of who attend Gems schools.
“We should get at least a 40 per cent waiver on school fees,” she said
"If I have to pay [the full] amount I may be forced to consider homeschooling. "This is definitely not what we paid for."
Updated: April 2, 2020 11:38 AM