Saving Money on School Fees and Reducing the Cost of Education – A Guide for Parents
Background – Saving Money on School Fees and Reducing the Cost of Education In The UAE
Over 70% of the population living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are expats, and 40% of those are professional, highly skilled workers, born overseas, who headed to the UAE for the endless leisure opportunities, beautiful sandy beaches, tax-free salaries and permanent sunshine.
Many of us too have arrived inspired by the UAE’s extraordinary location as a global travel hub wit its multitude of international connections for the intrepid traveller. Safe, multicultural, innovative, culturally rewarding, the final driver for many of us is finance.
The (mostly) tax-free earnings mean big wages that, after rent, go straight in our pocket.
Taken together, forging a life in the desert metropolis seemed at the outset of our journeys, and remains, hugely appealing.
Yet, as many young professionals establish their lives as long-term expats, they meet their partners, get married and have children. Costs and responsibilities rise and the picture becomes very different.
If they choose to stay in the emirates, those expat wages must then be stretched to cover the needs of the wonderful burden that are dependent children. When it comes to the cost of raising a family in the UAE, one of the biggest considerations must be school fees, which take up between 25% and 50% of the household income.
To understand the bigger picture of how what seem, at first glance, like high relative UAE salaries in fact mask the reality of costs of living, saving and retiring we all face , Mike Lambert, Headmaster, Dubai College, has written a highly informative article here. Whilst this is written for teachers, the broad points are applicable to all of us.
This said, education costs can be reduced with effective management.
For many years, school fees in the Emirates steadily increased. As the population rose, the number of schools did not, giving those few schools the freedom to pick and choose their students and charge parents handsomely for the privilege.
Now, with the UAE’s huge investment in education, this has changed. The number of schools across the UAE has (very significantly) increased and, as competition for students has also increased, schools themselves have begun to reduce fees to encourage enrolment. The net impact has been increased value for money without a drop in the quality of the education provided.
Finally, the cost of a private education in the UAE is best understood in looking at the broader content of both school and later university provision. As most of us know, many children, to all intents and purposes, never actually leave home.
The Cost of Private Schools
Private school fees vary depending on the curriculum and grade but average between AED 40,000 for Foundation stage per year, per child and up to, and beyond, AED 100,000 per child, per year, for secondary education. The differences in fees are accounted for fee are accounted for based on four areas:
- Breadth of subject choice (and ability to meet the needs of the largest number of children)
- Quality, nationality and expertise of teachers and school leadership
- School rating
- Size of school (the larger the school the more that it can access economies of scale)
The average annual school fee in Dubai is AED 64,000 per child.
The level of school fees, however, are not a definitive indication of the quality of a school – and no school will be the best school for every child.
A comprehensive list of Dubai school fees for 2019/2020 can be found here.
Background: The Cost Of Higher Education
And then there is the looming prospect of university to consider.
As parents, we hope that our children will have the privilege and the opportunity to experience university life and finish their studies with a Degree level qualification that will set them in good stead for a prosperous future.
We also, however, have the worry of figuring out how to pay for it as we quickly learn that an expat life abroad has removed most of the benefits that home students enjoy in the UK.
There are two options for Higher education – remaining in the UAE or students travelling overseas.
Costs of Higher Education in the UK
The UK provides a good example of how a life abroad can strip parents of subsidised benefits we would once have taken for granted.
In tertiary education in the UK, the term ‘home student’ refers to those who are eligible to pay a lower rate for their degree study. ‘Overseas’ students pay a higher rate. There is a limited number of home status places available, further classification details can be found here.
For home students, English Universities can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree programme. International undergraduate tuition fees vary considerably, starting at around £10,000 and rising to £38,000 or more for medical degrees.
At all levels, humanities and social science degrees tend to cost the least, while laboratory and clinical degree programmes are markedly more expensive. This partly accounted for by the longer study time required with, for example, medical degrees requiring four years of study.
It is regular practice for parents of British children to attempt to circumnavigate the classification red tape to ensure that their dependant is registered at their University of choice as a ‘home’ student to make significant savings in fees. Expert advice is available from specialists on the action parents need to take to ensure that their children fit the required profile for enhanced UK government funding.
Adding on the average cost of living in the UK per year (around £12,200) with the total average cost of studying in the UK per year (around £9,250) and the costs spiral. Studying in London too is always going to be more expensive and can a third to the total costs of further education in the UK.
Cost of a Higher Education in the United States
The US system is markedly different from others across the world. There is no Government standard, so fees are subject to the type of institution (including whether it is classified as public or private), the course being taken and future potential earnings of each course.
None the less, the United States is the world’s most popular destination for international students despite being potentially one of the most expensive.
HSBC’s ‘The Value of Education’ calculation showed that the average student, adjusted for 2020, spends around US$36,140 per year for their degree.
The annual cost of living in the US is extremely difficult to quantify as it varies so dramatically from State to State, so it is important to thoroughly research the price of accommodation, entertainment, food and travel in the region of study.
It should be noted that many Ivy League universities offer scholarships to financially disadvantaged families, at home and overseas, which can provide up to 100% fee remission and full support with living costs. The generosity of these schemes are not equalled anywhere else in the world.
Cost of a Higher Education in the UAE
Elementary and secondary schools in the UAE give some of the best educational institutions around the world a run for their money. Yet many graduates continue to pack their satchels and head ‘home’ to earn their degrees.
But there are options for further education here in the UAE for Tier 1, globally recognised degrees that hold the same theoretical value as their UK or US counterparts. For some employers, an international degree and education will differentiate students and actually give them an advantage.
The number of internationally recognised, Tier 1 universities bringing established courses to new campuses in the UAE is growing.
The breadth of subjects that are available is, however, limited in comparison to the UK and the US. However, 20% of the UAE’s federal budget in 2019 was allocated for investment in Higher Educational Programmes, ($2.8 Billion) with the aim of addressing this in the medium term.
When it comes to cost, students that continue to live at home with parents in the UAE is by far a cheaper option than paying rent in the UK or the US.
Living across the ocean away from ‘home’ in the UAE too, means paying costly air fair at least three times a year for many families.
Tuition fees too in the UAE are, on average, lower than the UK/US counterpart.
More and more universities are opening campuses in the UAE, including well known names from the UK, such as the University Of Manchester Middle East, University of Strathclyde Business School, Middlesex University Dubai.
There are also established institutions from North America and Canada including the Canadian University Dubai, and American University Dubai.
Universities from Australia are well represented through universities including Wollongong and Murdoch.
Fees do vary extensively depending on the course type and the institution, but they are reasonable when compared with the namesake counterparts.
For example, the University of Birmingham Dubai, which has the largest variety of courses available in the UAE, has tuition fees that range from AED 80,000 to AED 100,000 per annum.
HSBC, on the basis of its investigation of the cost of university education across 16 countries worldwide, found that the UAE came in sixth place in its ordering of the most expensive countries for higher education, this based on an average AED100,000 cost each year.
Adding up the total cost of educating a child – what do parents need to plan for?
Given the number of variables, it is difficult to put an exact number on 21 Years of Education. We estimate, however, that a ballpark estimate of AED 1million per child is not wildly out of court.
Bottom line: the cost of educating a child is usually the biggest single investment any of us will make in our lives.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that HSBC has found that a worrying 67% of UAE based parents have not sufficiently planned for the costs of educating children, not have the funds in place to cover the higher educational aspirations of their children.
Planning ahead, making changes and utilising money saving strategies can mean the difference between struggling to afford higher education for your child and having the resources to allow them to study without the added pressure of working themselves (or something in between.)
What you can do Now and Why You Cannot Start Too Soon
Given the current climate, there are quick actions you can take now to manage costs. As above, the number of schools has increased and, currently, supply outstrips demand in many sectors. Keeping up to date with scholarships and bursaries, the offers schools make to attract new students (and retain existing students) and being comfortable in discussing your financial situation with your current school are vital places to start in managing finances.
There are also a number of other ways of managing fees.
- Pay by Credit Card
As September looms the burden of paying school fees weighs heavy on our shoulders.
Today, however, there are many banks offering special deals and incentives on credit cards if parents use them to pay school fees. This includes a broad mix of benefits from cash back and free phones to 0% fee instalment plans.
Credit cards do require self-discipline – plans must always be in place to repay debt as quickly as possible and it is imperative to always read the small print.
Current offers include:
Standard Chartered Titanium CC
10% cash back
|School fee monthly instalment plan||0% interest for 6-12 months|
|Cash –On-Call facility||70% of your credit limit as cash||0% interest repayable over 12 months|
NBAD GEMS Titanium CC
|7% discount on GEMS school fees|
Mashreq Bank CC
Free Smart Device
Emirates NBD CC
10% cash back
|0% fee instalment plans over 3, 6, 12 months||Covers university payments too|
- Spreading Payments
An increasing number of schools, to encourage enrolments, now offer a menu of benefits for parents joining their school.
These include reductions for newly registering families and sibling discounts.
Flexible payment plans relieve some of the financial pressures that come with paying an annual fee in a single, bank-balance bashing, instalment.
Many schools increasingly help parents by allowing payment with post-dated cheques that spread out the cost of fees across the school year.
There are two lessons to take away from this:
- Talking to a school before you sign on the dotted line to take up a place about the benefits that they can offer, is vital.
- Talking to a school once registered, if your circumstances change, should never be feared. Schools are responsive.
If circumstances change and you run into difficulty, always speak to your school. In our experience, the majority of schools will always listen, and usually will help formulate a way through financial problems, particularly if they are short term.
- More Than One Child?
Having siblings at the same school usually attracts a discount.
These are usually in a range between 10% and 20% of the standard fee rates for a first child.
Examples of schools that do offer sibling discounts includes Foremark School, Repton School Dubai, Hartland International School, GEMS schools, the American School of Dubai, Uptown School, Dubai British School Jumeirah Park and Dubai Arabian American School.
However, always give schools the opportunity to offer a sibling discount, even if a discount is not advertised.
- Scholarships and Bursaries
Understanding the differences between scholarships and bursaries is important.
- A scholarship is a reduction in fees offered to a student based on their academic, artistic, sporting or other achievements/gifts.
- A bursary is a reduction in fees awarded because of the financial circumstances of parents.
Around the world, schools and colleges offer both scholarships and bursaries to students. In developed economies, the practice is an integral cog in the education wheel, with scholarship and bursary students making up to 30% of the student role in many schools.
This ensures that schools are inclusive, inspiring and reflective of society by welcoming students of diverse gifts and backgrounds.
Remarkably, however, very few schools offer scholarships or bursaries, at least publicly, in the UAE. Many that have, for example, offered scholarships too, have done this only temporarily or to fill places, rather than offering them structurally year-on-year. Elsewhere in the world, schools recognise the many advantages to the school and its children that come from welcoming the talent that scholarship students can bring to a school.
Dubai College launched its scholarship programme in 2017 in the spirit of educational philanthropy:
“Whilst we are academically selective, like a lot of schools in Dubai, we’re also socio-economically selective.
By setting our fees at a certain level, we automatically exclude some people from being able to get into the school because they can’t afford it.
We thought it would be a fantastic idea as part of our 40th anniversary celebration next year if we were able to offer places either at a hugely discounted rate, or entirely free, for anybody within Dubai who would pass the entrance test but who might otherwise not be able to afford to come to Dubai College so that we become a truly inclusive community school for those who can access what we do.”
Michael Lambert. Headmaster. Dubai College.
We do know that there are a number of schools that do offer bursaries privately when the families of existing students run into financial difficulty – but these are not publicised.
The list of schools that do offer annual scholarship and assistance can be found here.
- Negotiate With Schools
The current educational climate means that the UAE’s education system has, to a degree degree, become a buyer’s market. Schoolscompared recommends that you always speak to your school regarding your fee payment options, as we do know that some schools have reduced fees by AED 10K for the right family in the right circumstances.
Do your homework and go to a meeting with the school prepared with the pricing of an alternative school and be ready to argue the benefits of leaving.
Always make it clear that you would prefer to stay if possible but the financial restraints are forcing your decision.
Always be genuine, appreciative and transparent. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- Changing Schools
13 new schools opened in Dubai alone in 2019. The education sector has seen a proliferation of choice which has meant more choice for parents and more competitive fees.
Many new schools, in particular, offer big reductions on fees upon enrolment with some schools offering up to 50% reductions on agree fees.
Changing schools does come with its own issues, but potentially you could save AED 15,000 plus by moving to an equally good school.
The best time to change schools is at the start of the academic year and always at the beginning of a new term. This will be the least disruptive to children as there is always a high student turnover in the UAE due to its transient nature and new friendship groups are much more easily established.
If you do change schools, find one that is close to your family residence to save in transportations costs. The time and stress spent in commuting is a hidden cost that impacts on family life and happiness.
- Understand the Hidden Costs
When selecting a school for our children, it is natural to choose the best possible option that the available budget can stretch to.
But the headline cost of school fees do not reflect the reality of costs parents face.
Added costs can mean stretching the finances too thin.
School uniforms, books, admissions charges, transportation, after school care and school trips are just a few of the added extras that increase the financial strain on parents. A full break down of the hidden extra can be found here.
Do your research to ensure that you understand the true cost of your school of choice to avoid overstretching the budget unnecessarily.
- Move to online schooling.
The Coronavirus epidemic has brought swiftly into focus the benefits and opportunities of on-line learning. It does not have to mean home schooling with children learning in isolation. Many on-line schools run in physical buildings with children sharing classrooms just as they do in regular schools.
ICademy Middle East, an alternative to the usual bricks and mortar institute, offers a variety of options for students to physically attend between 2 and 5 times per week.
It can also fill in the gaps for students whose schools do not offer the subjects that students need or want to study. A full, one-year AP subject at iCademy costs AED 3,990 and the courses can be studied at home, on-line with full one-to-one teacher support.
Potentially parents could save AED 50,000 if they opt for pure home schooling – but it is important to carefully evaluate if it an option that suits the needs of the family and the child.
More information about ICademy Middle East can be found here.
The Bottom Line – The SchoolsCompared.com Guide to Saving Money on School Fees and Reducing the Cost of Education
The cost of school fees is steadily declining in the UAE, while the quality of the education on offer is increasing.
As a result, parents are in a strong position to afford their children a high-quality private education with high ROI and value for money compared with international counterparts.
Most of us, however, will struggle with the costs of educating our children.
It does help to begin to see education in a similar way to other financial decisions we make in our life. Few of us have the luxury of not shopping around and extensively researching before making purchases. Educational choices should be seen in the same way. As parents we all want to secure the very best education we can for our children within our budget. But effective negotiation and financial management, that budget can be better understood and extended.
Finally, however embarrassing it may be, our advice is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We must go beyond any cultural niceties and sensitivities around negotiation and budgeting in the area of education. Afterall, managing this effectively is driven by our wish to do the very best we can for our children.
So, armed with information, never worry about seeking out the deals and discounts that are offered by schools. Don’t ever be afraid to negotiate or move schools. And always be open to all possibilities, including whether the shift to an on-line education might prove a better fit to your child’s needs. Schools, nor other parents, will judge you badly for putting your children first. How could they? Keeping up with the Joneses has a lot to answer for and should surely have no place in the education of our children.
With the impact of Coronavirus Covid 19 on employment, this article could also not be more timely. We hope that parents will find some ideas how to deal with the impacts that have already started on family finances and lost employment. This is a time to for schools and families to be understanding and work together. We are, and must be, all in this together….
If you have a ground-breaking story in UAE education, please mail the SchoolsCompared.com News Desk 24/7 at [email protected]
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