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Mon 17 Dec 2012 10:48 AM

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Fury among parents over Dubai school closure

Parents describe closure of 5,000 pupil Westminster School as “slap in the face”

Fury among parents over Dubai school closure

Students and their parents have vented their anger after it was announced that one of Dubai’s largest privately run schools is to shut its doors permanently.

The Westminster School, which charges up to AED10,000 per pupil per year, is attended by close to 5,000 students from ages five to 18-years old. It was announced on Sunday that it will close in June 2014.

The school’s owner, for-profit GEMS Education, said it had no choice but to close down after the emirate’s education watchdog introduced a rule capping annual fee increases based on a school’s performance assessment. For the past five years, the Dubai School Inspection Bureau has ranked Westminster School as “acceptable”.

Students have been offered priority placement in other GEMS’ schools, some of which are in far-flung Ras Al Khaimah and charge as much as 100 percent more in annual tuition fees.

Local parents have expressed their disgust at the decision. “This is a decision motivated by nothing more than profit margins. Why close a school rated as acceptable?,” said one parent. “The reasons given for the closure simply to not add up. GEMS has put profit margins ahead of the welfare of the children at Westminster School. Thanks for the pre-Christmas slap in the face GEMS!”

A parent of one pupil at the centre highlighted the fact that GEMS recently announced expansion plans including US$650m in investment inm emerging markets in Africa, but still could not afford to keep Westminster School running. “They cry about not making [a] profit and closing the school, but [are] happily planning to invest US$650m, and operate 60 schools all over.”

One Dubai resident, whose young daughter has attended the school for more than two years, said he feared for her future if he was not able to secure alternative education arrangements. "I feel bad about having to move my daughter to a different school when all her friends are at Westminster School and I'm also worried that places at other schools will be in short supply when all the children from Westminster are looking for a place."

Others expressed not anger, but remorse over the plan, with one parent mournfully describing the school as “our love, our home and our family”.

In October, GEMS said that it planned to open ten new schools in Dubai over the next two years as part of the firm's ambitious expansion plans.

GEMS also recently announced that it would be investing US$650m in emerging markets to build schools in countries including Uganda, South Africa and Mozambique.

GEMS currently operates about 60 private schools across the Middle East, India, Europe, Africa and the US.

Earlier this year, GEMS UK director Raminder Vig told EducationInvestor: “Our chairman Sunny Varkey doesn’t care about profit. He actually gives money away.”

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Peter Hudson 7 years ago

This is typical GEMS....

Create a senstational ruckus....armtwist KHDA and parents into huge fee increases.

If it works, GEMS wins...if it doesn't, close the school and restart with a new name and double the fees!! In both cases GEMS wins.

If one school is loosing money, what about the 59 others in the GEMS stable that are minting money. Instead of building schools for the poor in far off places like Chibera or wherever by soliciting donations from students, why doesnt GEMS take the lead and cross subsidize it's low cost schools.

About time the authorities in Dubai cut this GEMS nonsense down to size.

Dino, you ought to be ashamed!!

Calvin 7 years ago

GEMS strategy is confusing. They close down this school as the government has capped fees but plans to open up 10 more in the future?

Chef 7 years ago

They call this greed pure greed!
Education and healthcare! We all want the best and they will take you to the cleaners without proper governement control and as its private there is only so much they can do!
Its the most dirty bussiness in the world!
Our Children are our future but you will have to pay for this they will make sure of that!

Faris Khan 7 years ago

This is why I support Public (State) run schools

well wisher 7 years ago

I have put my suggestion earlier as well, that all the schools should be forced to present their income & expense statement as any firm does. This will clearly show how much profit the schools are making or are they really investing in the future of children. Else building a premised with good facility is not difficult, then hiring some teachers & staff and finally you will get students. This has been the business formulae for many schools. If they are forced to present their yearly income & expense statement with details to all the parents & teachers, things will be much clear. I fear as I write, how many loyal teachers will be getting their salary as per their experience. I think the teachers are paid less compared to the fees the schools charge & this reflects in the students academics as well. only by having one or 2 toppers or facilities does not justify the fees hike. It should be the income & expense statement that needs to justify the fees hike.

Alex 7 years ago

What's confusing? The school is "fee-capped" not the company - so they could open a 5,000 pupil school next door and call it "the Second Westminster School"....

I'm no fan of GEMS but the harsh reality is that we do not pay tax and therefore the state is not obliged to educate our children; GEMS is a purely for-profit organisation and therefore it is quite hard to see how it could provide teachers, support-staff, premises, electricity and water, etc to a school for as little as AED10,000 each pupil per year - that's AED50 a day.

Asif Habib 7 years ago

As a parent I am worried now, as it is there are very few seats available in the other school, and with such a huge number of students that will become schoolless, I wonder how many of them will manage to find a place in another school. And even if many do manage to find a place, they will have to pay out at least double the fees, If not more.

Instead of going through this ordeal, why not have a compromise with GEMS on the issue, let them increase it significantly, because even a 50% increase is favorable for parents as their academic results are very good. and in turn the KHDA can give them certain targets that they must meet for the coming years.

I hope a solution can be worked upon, otherwise It's going to be very difficult for us, and win win for GEMS because if you donot let them, they will close this one, renovate- rebrand, and open a High end school.

John Applebee 7 years ago

Spot on Peter !

Someone needs to catch this bull by its tail! and give it a good shake

HD123 7 years ago

Im the first person to complain about "if you dont like it leave" comments, but in this instance I dont see how as a parent you can act like the school owes you something. We knew when we came here that we dont pay tax, but we have to pay for our children's education (which could end up costing more). Since these schools are private, they are essentially businesses. Theoretically they should be able to charge as much as they want just like any other business. I think when it comes to our children we can get emotional but the reality of the matter is that they are business' not govntm institutions. Its a horrible feeling, but we chose this path.

Hashim 7 years ago

Its clear evidence that, GEMS is indirectly putting pressure on Local Authority to get charges waived. People who knows the GEMS Management will realise this. They want the Parents Cry to reach the authority so that the Authority will go to their door and request them, please dont close.. we will reduce your charges and fees.

If GEMS is really dont want to run this school, they can hand over to someone else. I can help finding a good God fearing person who would like run this school or all of his schools as a service to the community and may be a little profit.