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Note from the Editor. KHDA Outstanding DESSC Promises Lower School Fees. Why it Matters for Every Family in the UAE.
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Note from the Editor. KHDA Outstanding DESSC Promises Lower School Fees. Why it Matters for Every Family in the UAE.

by Jon WestleySeptember 3, 2020

Background: KHDA Outstanding DESSC Promises Lower School Fees. Why it Matters for Every Family in the UAE. 

A photograph of happy children at Dubai English Speaking School DESS in Dubai as DESS Promises Lower School Fees

In arguably the most important intervention by a first tier, KHDA Outstanding school, Dubai English Speaking College and Dubai English Speaking School have confirmed a permanent reduction in school fees.

The decision will see a permanent 5% reduction in school fees at DESS, and a permanent 12% reduction at DESC. The revised annual tuition fees have been agreed with the KHDA (the Dubai Government Regulator and Inspectorate of Schools) will reduce annual fees to:

 

DESS

FS1: 35,468dhs

FS2-Year 6: 43,894dhs

 

VHPS_MPU1_DESK

DESC

Years 7-11: 69,865dhs

Years 12 and 13: 75,092dhs 

 

Why is this important?

The decision on whether they should reduce fees has been the subject of intense debate within all schools in the UAE. We have seen many fee reductions to date, so why is this intervention by DESSC different and important? Why are we choosing to write about this uniquely?

The reason is less complicated than you might think. DESSC has a unique place in UAE education. To date there has been no permanent reduction of fees from a school with this profile. Critically, many reductions in fees announced by other schools have been temporary, marketed to parents as lasting only during the Covid 19 pandemic or for a limited period.

DESSC has gone much further and made the commitment that the reduction in fees is permanent.

DESSC is also one of the very few Ivy League not-for-profit schools in the UAE. In these schools, all surplus income is reinvested back into the schools and not paid to share-holders or owners. As the name suggests, not-for-profit schools do not take a percentage of the money paid by parents away from the school.

In many ways, DESSC was exactly the type of school that those UAE schools fighting against fee reductions needed to keep its fees static or, better, rising. The joint decision by Dubai English Speaking School and Dubai English Speaking College to reduce their fees, and permanently, will now make it very difficult for other schools not to follow suit.

 

Why have schools struggled with reducing fees?

The obvious answer is that shareholders in for-profit schools do not want to lose that profit. This is, however, a simplification. It is not only profit that is at stake.

Lower School Fees will not reduce quality. Photograph of players from the DESC Rugby Team at the Dubai College 10s in Dubai celebrating after winning an historic clean sweep in the "beautiful game"

DESSC’s decision makes the stakes clear because, as a not-for-profit, there are only two ways to deliver a reduction in fees:

  • It could have cut the quality of its provision. For example, it could have increased class sizes. It could have employed less expensive, less experienced teaching faculty. Worth noting that the cost of paying teacher salaries is the single biggest cost faced by every school – in most cases at least 75% of the fees we all as parents pay to schools is used to pay those salaries.) DESSC has confirmed that it will not do this. It will not do anything to reduce the quality of the education it provides to its children.

“We will deliver to the same high standards of education (in the fullest meaning of the word, incorporating the curricular and co-curricular elements of a school experience) all families before you have become accustomed to; these standards will never be compromised by fee reductions.  We are not throwing away a hard-earned reputation for excellence, one supported by, between them, ten straight years of ‘Outstanding’ judgements from DSIB , four consecutive ‘Outstanding’ verdicts from British Schools Overseas (BSO) and the Schools Compared awards for, on top of several category ‘wins’, the most coveted ones: Best Primary School and Best School in the UAE. Too many people have worked too hard to forsake these levels of acclamation.”

Andrew Gibbs. Principal. Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) and Dubai English Speaking College (DESC)

  • That only leaves one other place that schools, like DESSC, can cut costs: investment. In the case of DESSC it will mean, for example, that the plans for building a bespoke theatre, indoor Sports Dome and Research, Development and Conference hub have all been shelved. Once taken for granted, investment is now, with this decision, the stuff of pipe dreams. There will be investment, but it will now be much, much more “cautious and gradual.”

The decision by DESSC highlights why reductions in school fees does have consequences.

In for-profit schools, owners and shareholders could choose to forego their profits. They could choose to maintain the quality of provision and future investment. In many for-profit schools, parents never learn how a reduction in school fees has been paid for – except when they see transparently that teacher’s contracts have not been renewed, teacher salaries have been reduced and/or recruitment freezes instigated. Usually, in for-profit schools, the reduction in fees is paid for by a mix of these things.

DESSC will, we are certain, remain an outstanding school – but it will also not be able to invest in the ways it has historically. And their decision could impact all of us as parents.

If all schools follow DESSC, as seems likeley, it will mean that the education sector, as a whole, will, to some degree, stand still. For outstanding schools like DESSC which compete on a global scale this will, arguably, matter less than in those schools for which standing-still will mean not improving beyond an acceptable level of education for children.

The reason why the UAE government, and private schools, have, quite responsibly, vexed over this issue is that reducing fees will mean that the school sector will face just such a period of standing still. If investment stops, we will no longer see the exponential rate of school improvement that we have in recent years. It will impact on communities too, as many of our best schools share their facilities in the evening.

 

So why the push to reduce fees?

The truth is stark. The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in tens of thousands of families leaving the UAE altogether – and many parents have lost their jobs. Some estimates put the figure above 25% of families having left the UAE, or planning to. The rapid investment in new schools that has led to so many benefits for parents in terms of choice and price competition may well, if things do not improve drastically – and quickly, now see schools fall by the wayside.

The best schools too, quite responsibly and compassionately, are already supporting children and their families who, through no fault of their own, have been plunged into financial difficulties. You will not hear it advertised, because no school can support every family, or support families indefinitely – but our best schools are already doing all they can to ensure that no child currently at their schools loses their place because of their parent’s financial distress.

This climate means now that schools have little choice but to reduce fees. Partly it is to compete for places but, in many cases, it is because many parent’s simply can no longer afford the fees as they were.

When schools like Dubai English Speaking School and Dubai English Speaking College make this sort of decision it signals to us all, and the sector, that things have changed.

We must now all accept that we are facing an age of at least relative austerity in education that will see price competition in the sector intensify. Families will be forced to move to schools with lower fees – but at the same time they will choose those that offer high quality provision.

The not-for-profit schools are at an advantage here because they are not beholden to the needs of owners and shareholders who rely on them generating a profit. But there are very few not-for-profit schools. The very best schools, for-profit and not-for-profit, will weather the storm if they get the balance of fees matched to the ability of the market to pay – and fight with their last breaths for every place.

These too are not the only pressures facing schools and families. If we do have to live with Covid 19 because no vaccine is forthcoming, there will be many families who may well pull their children from schools who do not offer very high-quality Distance Learning provision.  This is yet another cost facing all schools. Distance Learning is expensive to do well.

The end result is that the UAE is now a buyers’ market for those parents who still do have their incomes intact. Schools have never needed those incomes more as they risk heading into a world in which they may well have to fight very hard to survive at all.

This is why the responsibility of the decision made by DESSC will have weighed heavily on its Board. This is a decision not only about DESSC parents, but one that signals a very different, very worrying educational landscape that has now arrived.  

For those of us whose incomes have not been hurt by Covid 19, and even more so those of us who feel safe that they won’t be, now is the time to think before acting. If you are happy in your school, support it. They may not say it, but they need you. If, however, your school has let you down, you can expect to be wooed the the nth degree by every school you visit on your shortlist of alternatives as they clamour for your investment.

SchoolsCompared contacted one family with children at DESSC to comment on the fee reduction. They told SchoolsCompared.com:

“DESSC  have been fantastic in their clarity and transparency of their communication throughout the whole process since the start of COVID .

They have shown empathy, understanding and flexibility towards every family’s varying situations .

As parents of children at both DESS and DESC , the reduction in fees is hugely welcomed, not only in helping our own family, but many others who are struggling during these difficult times.

We know for sure that the schools will continue to provide an amazing education for our children. They always have. The staff have worked tirelessly over the entire summer break and we have never once felt alone or less than supported.

We are so happy and grateful to be part of the DESSC family . We can’t wait to get back 😊🙏”

The Carbery family. Pupils DESS & DESC.

The implicit warning here is that all schools will need to ensure that they look after, as DESSC has clearly done, their existing families whilst fighting to attract new ones to make the move that they will now need them to.

As to the future, we always use to be able to say that Dubai would rebound. We always use to be able to count on maintaining our nerves to see us through. Covid 19 is a different animal. Nothing is certain. Unless and until the world produces a working vaccine, the educational landscape in the UAE will remain precarious – and that helps none of us, schools, parents – and most importantly all of our children, alike.

©SchoolsCompared.com 2020. All rights reserved.

Our review of Dubai English Speaking School Can be found here

Our review of Dubai English Speaking College can be found here.

 

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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