Parents are paying more to send their children to a school in Dubai than a British university, an Arabian Business investigation revealed.
Some parents are forking out more than AED55,000 (US$15,000) per year for children as young as three years old, while a year’s tuition at universities such as Cambridge and Oxford is less than AED53,000.
Until recently, UK university fees were even cheaper.
GEMS World Academy is among the most expensive schools in Dubai. It charges AED55,386 for foundation years, when children are only three and four years old, according to the school’s website.
Annual fees escalate to AED69,283 for a typical child aged six to nine, and to AED79,733 for ten to 13-year olds. Secondary fees are as much as AED96,140.
Repton, one of the most sought after schools in the emirate, becomes as expensive as a UK university from Year 3.
The final year of primary school costs AED58,860, while secondary fees are between AED70,850 and AED92,650 – 75 per cent more than a UK university.
Kings – one of Dubai’s best schools according to government ratings – is more affordable, with fees not surpassing AED53,000 until Year 7.
Other primary schools rated by Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau as “outstanding” charge between AED33,000 and AED44,000 per year.
All of the emirate’s best secondary schools cost at least AED58,000 per year. Fees for the final year are in some cases almost AED100,000 – nearly double most UK universities.
On top of annual tuition fees, schools generally also charge a non-refundable fee of AED500 to apply for entry, as well as additional costs for transport, medical and extra-curricular activities.
The UK's most expensive university, the highly competitive University of Edinburgh, costs between AED35,000 and AED97,000 per year.
Robert Gordon is the cheapest UK university, at between AED23,300 and AED39,300, while the majority incur annual fees of AED53,000.
The fees only apply to European Union residents. They are at least AED12,000 more for non-EU residents.
High school fees in Dubai are forcing an increasing number of parents to seek bank loans or arrangements to pay their bills.
In some cases, English families are pulling their children out of Dubai schools and sending them back to the UK for their education.
Mike Hynes, managing director at Kershaw & Leonard, which publishes the Cost of Living in the UAE report, put his two eldest children through school in Dubai but has sent his younger two to the UK after watching local school fees skyrocket.
Hynes said it was cheaper to send his eldest daughter to university in the UK than to school his 14-year old son in Dubai.
“I think it’s astonishing when... it’s cheaper for me to get them through the UK university... than it was to put them through school. How ridiculous is that,” Hynes said.
Another Dubai parent said she was satisfied with the value for money she received for her three daughters’ primary school education, which costs AED38,000 per year at Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS).
But she could not understand why the fees doubled between Year 6 and Year 7 to AED65,660 – more than a UK university.
“I don’t know what more she’s going to get for it to jump that much,” the parent, who requested anonymity, said.
A spokesman for GEMS Education, the for-profit company that runs the school, said fees usually covered more tuition time per week than a university course, as well as other curricular activities.
Some employers also paid school fees or offered bonuses within employees’ salary packages, which were not available for university fees.
A spokeswoman for Repton, another school in Dubai, said fees were more expensive than UK universities because funding models were significantly different.
Teachers had to be recruited from the country where the school’s curriculum originated and their salary packages included extras such as housing and medical insurance that were not covered by universities. But compared to similar UK private schools, Dubai was cheaper.
Hynes said despite years of paying about AED70,000 per year for his son’s private education in Dubai, he still was not at the same academic level as his peers when he applied to enrol in the UK.
“[Dubai schools] are simply not delivering the quality of education that they should,” Hynes said.
“There’s something going badly wrong in the education here; it’s hugely expensive and it’s not delivering the UK quality education.
“The reason Dubai College and JESS get away with it is because there’s not enough supply of high quality schooling and there hasn’t been for decades.”
Hynes said parents of children in Asian and Indian schools were similarly struggling. Although their annual fees were significantly lower – at about AED15,000-18,000 – they were still excessive relative to their salaries.
Dubai school fees are set in line with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s school fees framework.
Schools can apply to increase their fees according to their rating by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau.
Schools rated 'outstanding' can increase their fees by double the educational cost index (ECI). Those rated good may increase fees by 1.5 times the ECI, while others can only charge the ECI.
Hynes said even with KHDA limits on school fees, increases do not apply to extras such as school trips, which can cost up to AED10,000.
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