Saudi Arabian private schools are blaming new female minimum wage rules for forcing them to close.
About 13 private schools – mostly girls-only centres - in the province of Jeddah claim they had to push up fees by 50 percent to cover the increased cost of hiring female teachers, Arab News reported.
Parents unable to afford the new charges had pulled out their children, leaving huge holes in enrolment figures.
Disgruntled school principals said students would be pushed into public schools, adding to overcrowding and costing the government an extra SAR20,000 (US$5333) per student each year.
Saudi private schools now have to pay a minimum of SAR3,100 (US$826) per teacher, which is topped up with a further SAR2,500 by the government’s Human Resources Fund.
Girls-only private schools had been hit hardest because they generally hired more female teachers and faced a larger gap in what they paid now and the new requirements.
“With the increase in the salaries of teachers it is not feasible for private schools that charge a pupil SAR8,000 or less a year to stay open,” the newspaper quoted Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry committee for private schools chairman Othman Al-Qasabi as saying.
“And with the fact most parents won’t pay more than SAR10,000, [those] schools would close and their pupils would turn to public ones.”
However, Al-Qasabi said he supported increasing teachers’ salaries to provide greater incentive to enter the profession, claiming private school teachers’ salaries were the lowest in Saudi Arabia relative to other jobs.
Chairwoman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry committee for girls’ private schools, Farida Farsi, said schools in her area could not afford the salary increase.
“They are small investors who rent residential buildings (villas) and opened private schools at their neighborhoods as a result of the Ministry of Education’s failure to accommodate all of a neighborhood’s pupils in its (the neighborhood’s) government schools,” she was quoted as saying.
Head of the national private schools committee, Malek bin Taleb, said the problem was worse in all-girls’ schools, which were required to have almost 100 percent female employees.
Many of the closed schools would permanently leave the sector, he told Arab News.