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School fees up by 18%. Inflation: 4%. It doesn’t add up.

School fees up by 18%. Inflation: 4%. It doesn’t add up.

Dubai tuition fees rose by four times the rate of inflation last year. You don’t need to take a math class to realize that’s not right, says Katherine Azmeh.

April 1, 2010 5:16 by

What is behind the rising education costs in Dubai? Government figures suggest that school fees rose by more than 18 percent last year. But general inflation rose by just 4 percent. Something doesn’t add up.

Perhaps school administrators caught a headline in The Independent last year that read: “Fee-paying schools prove surprisingly recession-proof”. Did they believe they had a free reign on pricing, in the knowledge that most parents had little choice but to pay up?

Either way, they don’t have a free reign now. For Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) recently announced a freeze on school tuition fees in the coming school year. This in turn prompted an announcement by one of the UAE’s largest school operators, GEMS Education, that it may be forced to close several of its schools if not allowed to hike fees.

The threat applies only to Asian community schools, some of which charge fees of less than AED5,000 ($1,360) a year, according to The National. GEMS Education said that, while the average increase in tuition fees over the last six years was 27 per cent, the average increase in operating costs was 57 per cent, partly due to rising commercial rents.

But that’s just one segment of the education market. What about the schools which charge far more than that? And while schools across the entire market increased their fees by 18 percent, hospitals increased charges by just 5 percent. How can that be, when both schools and hospitals have to pay commercial rents?

In internet posts from passionate teachers, parents, and observers, there was much debate over whether rises in school fees meant a better quality of education. Accusations on the forums sometimes devolved into nasty personal attacks from both sides.
But parents should not be surprised about such rises in fees. For the Dubai education sector is a business that holds the reigns of social responsibility in one hand and money-making in the other. Separating the two is a headache, if not impossible; witness the healthcare debate in the US, where intelligent people on both sides of the political divide struggled with the concept of whether healthcare is a basic human right – especially when so much money stands to be made.

Some have suggested that ethics should temper profit motives of school administrators, urging them to continue to operate some schools at a loss, subsidized by the gains of more profitable schools.

But either way, operators like GEMS face losing their customers if the threatened school closures go ahead. According to local media, many parents are considering leaving Dubai if they cannot afford to send their children to school. And if that carries on, only the rich will be able to afford to send their children to school.

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  1. DENISE-THE-MENACE-ONCE-AGAIN on April 4, 2010 7:52 am

    Shame on KHDA for being a passive participant and letting operators like gems to muscle them… Well we all know the reason no. 1 Its the asian community schools that are under threat of closure and empathy to fellow humans is strictly a lip-service virtue in today’s modern upcoming arab nations !!!

  2. FRUSTRATED on April 6, 2010 10:05 am

    This is a complete waste of time, nothing will change!

    KHDA needs to seriously do something about this before its too late, and that is not far away.

  3. Miss Anne Thropic on April 13, 2010 8:56 am

    And this the sad result of schools being run as businesses rather than non-profit places of education…

  4. Andrew on April 13, 2010 9:57 am

    There’s no motivation to create a not-for-profit trust here, don’t see it happening anytime soon.

  5. japs on May 17, 2010 5:27 am

    Hey guys … hadn’t you noticed the wedding ceremony of Great Sunny Varkey’s Son? So you can guess how influential he is… he can increase the fee and what ever he likes…. JUST LIKE THAT…
    KHDA and all are nothing for them..


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