Students and their parents have vented their anger after it was announced that one of Dubai’s largest privately run schools is to shut its doors permanently.
The Westminster School, which charges up to AED10,000 per pupil per year, is attended by close to 5,000 students from ages five to 18-years old. It was announced on Sunday that it will close in June 2014.
The school’s owner, for-profit GEMS Education, said it had no choice but to close down after the emirate’s education watchdog introduced a rule capping annual fee increases based on a school’s performance assessment. For the past five years, the Dubai School Inspection Bureau has ranked Westminster School as “acceptable”.
Students have been offered priority placement in other GEMS’ schools, some of which are in far-flung Ras Al Khaimah and charge as much as 100 percent more in annual tuition fees.
Local parents have expressed their disgust at the decision. “This is a decision motivated by nothing more than profit margins. Why close a school rated as acceptable?,” said one parent. “The reasons given for the closure simply to not add up. GEMS has put profit margins ahead of the welfare of the children at Westminster School. Thanks for the pre-Christmas slap in the face GEMS!”
A parent of one pupil at the centre highlighted the fact that GEMS recently announced expansion plans including US$650m in investment inm emerging markets in Africa, but still could not afford to keep Westminster School running. “They cry about not making [a] profit and closing the school, but [are] happily planning to invest US$650m, and operate 60 schools all over.”
One Dubai resident, whose young daughter has attended the school for more than two years, said he feared for her future if he was not able to secure alternative education arrangements. "I feel bad about having to move my daughter to a different school when all her friends are at Westminster School and I'm also worried that places at other schools will be in short supply when all the children from Westminster are looking for a place."
Others expressed not anger, but remorse over the plan, with one parent mournfully describing the school as “our love, our home and our family”.
In October, GEMS said that it planned to open ten new schools in Dubai over the next two years as part of the firm's ambitious expansion plans.
GEMS also recently announced that it would be investing US$650m in emerging markets to build schools in countries including Uganda, South Africa and Mozambique.
GEMS currently operates about 60 private schools across the Middle East, India, Europe, Africa and the US.
Earlier this year, GEMS UK director Raminder Vig told EducationInvestor: “Our chairman Sunny Varkey doesn’t care about profit. He actually gives money away.”