Dubai's Alabbar hit a nerve with residents

Comment: What the Emaar Group Chairman said about tuition fees resonated with the public because he spoke the truth.
Dubai's Alabbar hit a nerve with residents
Speaking truth: Mohamed Alabbar said what readers are thinking.
By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Sun 14 May 2017 08:48 AM

The stories that affect readers are the ones that touch the lives of the men and women who live in the community in which a news organisation publishes.

Online traffic for is at its highest when we have great local stories. What is even more telling about which stories resonate is the total number of reader comments a particular article receives.

Online hits are a great indicator of a story’s popularity, but a clickbait story is indicative of nothing but being a great clickbait story.

According to a 2015 poll of 1,471 American respondents that was released in March 2016 by the Engaging News Project out of the University of Texas at Austin, one popular reason why readers left comments was “to express an emotion”.

So, when a reader is inspired enough to write a comment, it means the story has struck a nerve, and that is exactly what Emaar Group chairman Mohamed Alabbar did when he spoke at the recent Arab Youth Survey roundtable. quoted the UAE businessman as saying private school fees are too high. A great story there, but then – thankfully – he went on: “I am very close to private educators. They suck the life out of the fees. I’m not sure if education should really be privatised. I know private schools have good discipline. But some of these fees – how can any human being pay like this?”

Sometimes in a newsroom, there comes along a story that is so perfect “it will break the internet”, as a British former colleague used to say. The meaning is that it has the right amount of everything that people like to read. For instance,’s story about a company looking to tow icebergs from Antarctica to Fujairah just enough unbelievableness to make it popular with readers.

Then there are the stories that inspire reader to write comments.

Here is a billionaire speaking out for people who do not have the same pulpit. He is saying what everyone is thinking, and he is fortunate enough to have the podium from which to say it.

On, a guide that looks at all things education in the Middle East, the four most expensive schools (from a list of 102 private Dubai schools that offer Grade 12 (Year 13) education) are GEMS World Academy, Dubai AED107,928 ($29,383); Kings School, Nad Al Sheba AED103,200 ($28,096); Repton School, Dubai AED100,759 ($27,431); and Kings School, Al Barsha AED100,000 ($27,224).

According to, which is a Harvard University site:

“The total 2016-2017 cost of attending Harvard College without financial aid is $43,280 for tuition; and $63,025 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined.

It goes on: “Families with students on scholarship pay an average of $12,000 annually toward the cost of a Harvard education. More than 55 percent of Harvard… students receive scholarship aid, and the average grant this year is $50,000.”

All of this means that -- on average -- it is less expensive to send a student to Harvard than it is to send a student to certain high schools in Dubai.

I’m not sure what the answer is to the question of public versus private education, or how we can rollback rising fees, but I do know that reading the dozens of comments on our website, Alabbar hit upon an issue that is not likely to go away any time soon.

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