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Education Regulator Allows Fee Increases at 75 Percent of Dubai Private Schools

Roberta Pennington, The National
June 11, 2014

Three-quarters of the emirate’s private schools have been given permission to raise fees for the coming academic year.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the private school regulator, has approved applications by 118 schools, including 20 non-profit.

Applications by eight others are still under review. The emirate has 157 private schools.

“KHDA has received and processed fee increase applications from schools following the announcement of the inspection results,” said Mohammed Darwish, chief of the authority’s regulations and permits commission.

“In line with the fee framework and the educational cost index issued by Dubai Statistics Centre in January, the fee increases will reach a maximum of 3.48 percent for outstanding schools, 2.61 percent for good schools, and 1.74 percent for those in the acceptable or unsatisfactory category.

“Schools that are under three years old or those that have been granted an exceptional fee increase in the past are not eligible for an increase this academic year.”

The education cost index (ECI), which includes inflation, was set at 1.74 percent by the Dubai Statistics Centre this year.

Last year, Mr. Darwish announced there would be no school fee rises because the ECI had been calculated at minus 1 percent.

Exceptions can apply when a school operating for profit can show that it needs to increase its fees beyond the framework to pay for improvements such as adding classrooms or buildings.

For the coming year, 10 schools have been approved to exceed the rates set by the KHDA.

The cap, which has been enforced by the government for the past three years, is meant to protect families from schools charging exorbitant fees.

But many operators of established schools say that while this framework benefits new schools, which can set their rates according to the current market values, it punishes long-standing schools whose rates were established, in some cases decades ago.

“Often schools that have served Dubai well and for many decades stare closure in the face because of this anomaly in funding,” said Clive Pierrepont, spokesman for Taaleem, which operates five schools in Dubai.

“The major discrepancy in the current school fee framework is that 1.74 percent of Dh8,000 is very different from the same percentage of Dh80,000.

“And yet there is no difference in costs for those budget providers of schools to those that serve the premium sector, such as ourselves.

“They cannot buy educational supplies or services any cheaper and therefore their financial position becomes increasingly untenable.”

The Dubai Private Schools Group, which represents several operators, has also urged the government to revise the fee structure.

“This framework has also failed to take into account the three most significant costs facing schools in Dubai – teacher salaries, rents for the land and school buildings, and capital investment in technology and innovation,” a spokesman said this year.

“We seek a clearer policy that can ensure schools remain sustainable and thriving. We also seek a different ECI to be developed for schools, one which takes into account the disproportionate increases in operating costs over the years that is now irreversible.”

Dr. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, who is researching the cost of private education in the UAE, said the fee cap “is important to keep schooling affordable for expatriate families as they do not have a public option for education.

“However, schools also need to be able to pay their bills, and with increasing rental costs and salaries this means they are faced with additional expenses that they need to cover,” Dr. Ridge said.

“I think there is a greater need for government to think through how they can best deal with this issue, rather than just relying on a fee cap that may in effect cause some schools to go out of business, which would then place greater pressure on other schools.

“Perhaps non-profit schools could be offered government land subsidies, which would help them keep their costs down while still supplying good quality education.”