Six months ago I wrote a column suggesting that the way school fees were set up in the UAE was nothing short of disgrace.
It got quite a reaction – and, I should say, a few threats from some dodgy characters in the industry. Six months on, has anything changed? Or course not. Why should it? Why should some schools stop ripping parents off when it’s so easy to do so?
This week, GEMS chairman Sunny Varkey has stirred the pot a bit more by saying that parents have no right to complain about fees if they choose a high school they cannot afford.
His exact comment, to Gulf Business, was this: “If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble…You understand what I’m saying? You must choose a school that you can afford.”
As it turns out, I somewhat agree with Varkey. Dubai has several financial models for schools, and parents should choose the one they can afford, not the one they wish they could afford. It’s why I don’t drive a Bentley, much as I would like to.
But I would say this – Varkey is one step ahead of the argument. The problem is not choosing the school you can afford, but actually getting a place in the first instance. As my earlier column highlighted, schools charge AED500 purely to register a child. They keep that money, regardless of whether a child gets a place or not.
After my original column, I met with many school bosses, all of whom claimed this practice would soon be stopped. It hasn’t. I know education is a business, but this is theft.