Fury among parents over Dubai school closure

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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.”

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Posted by: AZimbabwe

Look, this is just a smart strategy by the Varkey group to increase fees. Since the government is controlling fee increases, the easiest way to raise fee's in low cost schools is to close them, re-brand them , and open them at double or triple the rate.

These guys are geniuses, you have to give them that. Too bad for the kids though...

Posted by: A parent

Dear Mr Varkey, thanks for your kind offer of a place for my child in another GEMS school, but sorry, I won't need it. I'll find a place at a school run by a provider that prefers to keep its schools open. What's to say that the next GEMS school I send my child to won't close down, and the one after that? I am a paying customer and your company has let me down, along with several thousand more customers. Is that the way to run a business?

Posted by: Mohamed Nihar

As in all things in Dubai this is a highly profitable business, If the bottom line is not met, as in any business the concerned party will eventually call it a day. This is the actual fact. If we need to focus on educational well being of our kids we may either pump more cash or pack the kids back home to educate them. This is honestly a sorry scenario..
At least the KHDA is trying to curb (the exorbitant fees) to some effect, I believe It's time that the state introduces an international education medium and channel where even expats can find solace..
and in return even the local community can benefit.

Posted by: Sulaiman

My suggestion to the parents of children at this school is not to be demoralised by the action of the GEMS management. I am a parent who experienced similar situation when GEMS management decided to close another school in their group many years back where my 3 children were studying at that time. GEMS had applied to the MOE for a fee increase of 40% and MOE rejected the same and that was the reason for closure. Among the desperate parents, 6 of us decided to hold a parents meeting and prepared a memorandum to the MOE and also to the Department of Education in Dubai (KHDA was not in existence at that time) which was signed by hundreds of parents. We then visited MOE and local department and explained the situation who asked us to discuss the matter with GEMS management. We met the Chairman of GEMS twice and discussed the issue who finally agreed on a 20% increase in fee and not to close down the school. I suggest you follow the same method if possible.

Posted by: RaOne

As Alex pointed out, they can open a new school next door with a much higher fee and KHDA will not have any issue here. they only cap fee-increase.

So in end it does not make sense, better option is KHDA/GEMS and parents negotiate, increase the fee that is acceptable and let the school function.

Hearing comments, most of the parents are even ready for decent hike cause this school fee is very low compare to others.

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