The cost of education is falling, so why aren't school fees?

Fee reductions would go a long way to improving the image of the UAE's education sector
school children, pupils
By Courtney Trenwith
Thu 07 Feb 2013 02:21 PM

The cost of education in Dubai has gone down, so why haven't school fees?

The Education Cost Index (ECI) declined by 1 percent this year, as calculated by the Dubai Statistics Centre, which takes into account items such as salaries, rent, utilities and the consumer price index.

The reduction should come as a relief to parents, many of whom are forking out AED69,283 (US$18,700) for a typical child aged six to nine.

Parents will be spared any school fee increases for 2013-14 (although the best rated not-for-profit and embassy schools can apply for an exemption if they are doing major renovations, investing in property, expanding or improving facilities for special education needs students) but any savings in education costs will not be passed onto parents in the form of lower fees.

Had the ECI increased, schools would have been allowed to hike up fees by as much as double, depending on their inspection results by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

But the same correlation does not apply when the ECI declines.

While it may be too much to expect schools to lower their fees based on a negative ECI, it would be fair to expect the negative figure (in this case -1 percent) to be carried over to the following year if costs were to again increase.

That would give parents a fair catch up. It means if the ECI increased by 3 percent next year, school fees the following year would only go up against an ECI of 2 percent.

But the KHDA has confirmed to Arabian Business that this will not be happening.

“If you look at the calculation, we’re at nine now instead of ten, because of the minus one. I think the increase therefore should definitely take into account the reduction next year,” Mike Hynes, managing director at Kershaw & Leonard, which publishes the Cost of Living in the UAE report, told Arabian Business.

“If they were to be allowed a 5 percent increase in real terms it should be only a 4 percent increase to take into account the -1 percent this year.”

Schools could instead earn brownie points this year by indirectly passing on the saving to parents through means other than school fees, such as reducing the cost of bus tickets or school trips.

At a time when the high cost of schooling in Dubai is a trend topic among expats, it would go a long way to improving the image of the sector.

An Arabian Business investigation last month revealed the startling fact that it costs more to send a child to some Dubai schools than a British university.

Fees for a three-year old are as high as AED55,000 (US$15,000) per year, while they escalate to AED69,283 for a typical child aged six to nine, to AED79,733 for many ten to 13-year olds and as much as AED96,140 for the most expensive secondary schools.

Meanwhile, a year’s tuition at universities such as Cambridge and Oxford is less than AED53,000. Until recently, UK university fees were even cheaper.

Schools will argue that they are private and operate an international curriculum that inevitably costs more. It may well do, but parents have limited choice in the emirate.

Some parents struggling to afford the bill – especially those with multiple children – are increasingly asking for payment plans.

It would be a breath of fresh air for the sector to recognise its costs have gone down and give a little back to parents. 

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