Parents can't moan about school fees - GEMS chief

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GEMS chairman Sunny Varkey.

GEMS chairman Sunny Varkey.

Parents have no right to complain about fees if they choose a high school they cannot afford, GEMS Education chairman said of “grumbling” parents in an interview with Gulf Business.

“If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble,” Sunny Varkey said.

“You understand what I’m saying? You must choose a school that you can afford.

“It’s normal human behaviour [for parents] to defend fees. But parents can very well see which are the schools that are good, outstanding, fair, or not good. And, accordingly, they can choose a school.”

GEMS is the world’s largest private education company and operates eight UK-curriculum schools in the UAE.

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. Annual fees rise 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.

Varkey said parents got what they paid for.

“Dubai is a place where, depending on your financial resources, you can choose a school model. If you want to choose a school that is $10,000, you have it. If you want to send your children to a school that is $3,000, you have it,” he said.

Varkey claimed a new school would need to charge a minimum AED12,000 ($3267) per student per year in order to survive.

“I would say about AED12,000 upwards per annum for an Asian curriculum and AED18,000 upwards for the English curriculum,” he told Gulf Business.

“This has been an issue we have been facing, especially with old schools that were established in the last 20 years, where the fees have not increased in line with inflation.

“If we are not sustainable as a business, we can’t build more schools to help children.

“If Bill Gates was not a successful business person, he would not have been able to do the charity that he is doing today. In our own case, even more so because we don’t collect donations, we take loans and borrow from the banks. We take money from there and we reinvest back into the CSR.”

In Dubai, school fee increases are determined by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) based on performance.

Schools rated as outstanding in the annual review 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.

The KHDA decided in February there would be no school fee increases for the 2013/14 academic year after the Dubai Statistics Centre calculated education costs had fallen 1 percent.

High school fees in Dubai have been 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.

GEMS operates more than 100 schools in 19 countries and plans to open in 50 countries, including Qatar, in the next five years.

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