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Help! I cannot afford to pay my school fees! I am in trouble! What can I do…?
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What do you do if your financial circumstances change, you can no longer afford your school fees, but want you and your family to remain in the UAE. SchoolsCompared.com looks at the harsh reality of a universal private school system, in a country that does not take kindly to debts or bounced cheques.

One fact is true: If you’re not Emirati, and you have school-age children in the UAE, you’ll be paying for education. How much though is very dependent upon you. The cheapest schools in the UAE cost under 5,000 AED a year, the most expensive touch 100,000 AED.

School fees are not just about what you can afford today. Covid-19 casts its shadow on this story because it is a classic example of an ‘existential shock’, something outside the normal boundaries of what we can plan for, that can stick a spanner where it is really not wanted. The longer the duration of a payment, the higher the chance of such an unexpected change in fortunes.

During the course of putting this story together, SchoolsCompared.com reached out to numerous schools to ask what provisions schools make to help parents who meet difficulties and changed financial ability. We heard two things:

  1. We are not going to go on the record with specific plans because there aren’t any. There are plans we can put together for specific situations. However, changed circumstances have to be real, demonstrable, and short-lived: no school can afford to keep going without reliable revenue streams.
  2. We are not going to discuss how we have helped others in the past because it could encourage other parents to try it on. The truth is, if all parents had a go, we would be swamped with requests, 99% of we would reject. Were we to accept more we would have to close – or change the quality/service offering to something that met the new income, which would be something other than the parents originally bought into.

So, some perhaps unpalatable truths we all have to be a little more accepting of. In the UAE education is not free, and not a right. You have chosen to live in the UAE, and therefore implicitly accepted this reality.

If your fortunes change, your immediate need is to speak to your school. Our belief is that most schools will go out of their way to help by reducing or deferring payments – but they do not HAVE to. You will need to be open and frank in your communication. Do not be surprised if accounting departments become aggressive if you do not pay, and do not explain why. Do not also just expect your school to just accept your reality without any requests and demands of its own. Schools are businesses with both DEWA bills and salaries to pay.

Secondly, if your changed circumstances look set to be more than just a short-term reality, and you take the decision to remain in the UAE, you will, in all likelihood, need to change school to fit your new budget. The good news here is that while change can be painful, there are many good schools within very different price points. Quality is not contingent on high fees.

In the UAE there are some other means of support which we look at below. However, bluntly, these are either not for everyone, funds that cannot be accessed immediately, or something we would advise you not to consider unless you really know what you are doing…

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Scholarships and bursaries

Unfortunately in the UAE, ‘bursaries’ – means tested aid for parents, regardless of a specific child’s ability – do not exist in any meaningful form.

One reason these do not exist is that schools are still too new to have strong alumni, which often are the source of this support. Bursaries are particularly strong in the UK and used as a means to level access to private schools. In the UK even upper middle class are increasingly being shut out of private schooling with an internationalisation of places. Bursaries are increasingly replacing scholarships as a source of financial support, although the number of scholarships is also rising. Scholarships are however becoming awards of prestige, helping students achieve places in tertiary institutions, or on a more practical path – into a professional sports team for example. The financial aspect of a scholarship usually comes in the form of more hands-on support and mentoring.

In the UAE, scholarships are still very much financially based, and used to help schools increase their students numbers and attract stronger students. They could potentially offer some relief for parents in difficult situations, but this is not their purpose and the fact that they are usually awarded annually, is likely to mean they are not a short-term fix.

The following schools have all published the availability of scholarships on our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. We do not claim it is exhaustive, so please contact your school even if it is not on this list.

Deira International School
Al Futtaim Education Foundation (AFEF) supports parents within the Dubai and UAE communities by offering several scholarships at Deira International School (DIS) and Universal American School (UAS) for existing and prospective students.

The scholarships are made available on an annual basis and cover a percentage of the tuition fees up to a maximum of 100% for Emirati Scholarships and up to 50% of the tuition fees for Academic and Talent Scholarships. Applications are invited from Emirati and expatriate students both from within the DIS/UAS communities and from other schools in/outside the United Arab Emirates as per the criteria listed below.

Dubai International Academy
Sports scholarships are available annually. Individual applications are welcome. Admissions will have details of the application process.

Greenfield International School
We offer Academic, Sports and Performing Arts scholarship programmes with 25%, 50% and 75% tuition fees reduction.

Repton School Dubai
Scholarships are offered every year in January for both external and existing pupils

Universal American School
Al Futtaim Education Foundation provides scholarships for students at UAS in the following categories: Emirati Students, Academic IBDP and Talent (Sport, Music, Languages etc)

Raffles International School
Sports and Academic scholarships are available for the AY 2021-22. Individual applications are welcome.

The Winchester School
TWS offers participation in the Sheikha Fatima Award for which fees are 100% free for one girl awardee.

Raffles World Academy
Sports scholarships are available for the AY 2021-22. Individual applications are welcome. Admissions will have details of the application process.

Star International School Al Twar
Star Al Twar also offers Merit-based scholarships based on academic achievement and overall excellence.

Credence High School
AED 5,000 to 80% – 85% in Pre board / Board Exam. AED 7,500 to 85% and above in Pre board / Board Exam.

Swiss International Scientific School Dubai
“Excellent” Scholarships available. Contact the school for details.

Kent College Dubai
Scholarships are available in the following areas: Academic, Performing Arts, Sports and Arabic at 50% of the KHDA published fees, please contact [email protected] for further details.

Global Indian International School Abu Dhabi 
Please visit the school’s scholarship site – https://abudhabi.globalindianschool.org/admissions/scholarships

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
Students entering Year 7 and above are invited to apply for the following scholarships: Academic; Fine Arts; Golf; Performing Arts; Sports; and STEM.

Amity International School Abu Dhabi
Amity says it offers one of the most extensive and generous Scholarship and Bursary funds in the UAE, and is able to offer many scholarships worth 100% of the full fees to support exceptional Music, Sports, and Performing and Creative Arts Scholars from Year 5 to Year 11.

Al Yasat Private School, Abu Dhabi
Students entering grades 9 – 12 are eligible to apply for an academic scholarship. The scholarships are for tuition fees only and will be available based upon the following: Availability of places for all students both current and new to the school. The children or relatives of employees of the school or its subsidiaries are not eligible to apply. There will be 3 scholarships for each of the above grades based upon the scholarship program’s terms and conditions. Each scholarship receives 50% full scholarship. Academic scholarships do not cover transport, extracurricular activities, field trips, book fees or uniform costs.

Australian International School Sharjah
Scholarships available through application upon meeting AIS criteria.

Ajman Academy
Ajman Academy has now introduced the scholarship program to students applying from Grade 4 to Grade 12. Our vision is to develop young talent, paving the way for an innovative future to empower students through learning. Scholarships will be available to students that exhibit outstanding potential within their academic study. There are several scholarships available that will offer parents a 10% – 30% discount off the annual tuition fee. These discounts will be offered to students based on the result achieved during their admissions assessment.

GEMS Scholarships
The GEMS Scholarships programme is merit-based and designed to reward students excelling in Academics, Creative & Performing Arts, Sports, Innovation & Digital Technology, and Arabic Studies. Concessions range from 25-100% off annual school fees. https://www.gemseducation.com/choosing-a-school/scholarships/

In addition to the group-wide programme, many GEMS schools offer their own scholarship programmes, such as the iFlourish Scholarships at GEMS Founders School – Dubai

If you would like to add your school to this list, please ensure you add the details on your school account on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. If you do not have an account, please go here.

 

Borrowers Beware

SchoolsCompared.com does not advise borrowing to pay school fees, and the use of credit cards needs to be done wisely. This is even more so for families that feel the need to borrow because of financial difficulties.

UAE law is not kind to those that run into difficulties and cannot repay debts and while banks are happy to lend, they are the first to protect their own financial position, at cost of their customer, when they feel repayment is at risk.

Ludmila Yamalova, Founder and Managing Partner of HPL Yamalova & Plewka Legal Consultants (LYLAW) shared some of her legal expertise with SchoolsCompared.com on this issue:

“One thing that does concern me is taking out loans for school fees.

“So many of the cases we deal with are when families have taken out personal debt and then lost their job. This trend is unfortunately increasing as in the past if you lost a job, you found another one. Now, you may struggle to secure employment, or have to settle for a much lower salary making it challenging to honour your debts.

“Technology has however supported a decline in criminalisation of debt as in the past putting you in jail was the only solution to guaranteeing repayment in the future. Now the government has efficient systems set up where they can place travel bans and prevent debtors from attempting a “runner,” taking away the need for extreme measures such as jail time. As such we are now seeing more civil cases come up against customers, rather than criminal or police cases.

“There has been a slew of recent legislation that has helped the current situation.

Bear in mind however, it is still a criminal offense to bounce a cheque, which banks require against personal loans. However, as of 2022, this will no longer be the case with a new law change, alleviating additional stress for borrowers.

“There is another recently launched law where you can file for insolvency or personal bankruptcy in the event you cannot settle your loans. However, it is currently challenging to execute since it is so new.

“I would like to advise families to always try and live within their means as much as possible. And, do not be bashful to engage schools and banks for solutions or payment plans in the event you are unable to meet your payments, avoiding any potential legal consequences.”

 

Financing options

That all being said, for parents that have done their due diligence, there are financial options out there that can be astute to exploit. The most sensible of these are savings plans; the most ‘expedient’ can be credit cards and loans, both of which can cut the cost of what you need to pay.

Gemma Wild, Sector Head – Education & Healthcare, MENAT at HSBC told SchoolsCompared.com:

“While the cost of education can be significant, it is often a predictable cost which parents can and should plan and save for. For anyone with a young child now, this is really the time to think about setting aside additional saving to meet education costs. There are a lot of education-tailored calculators and funds to research.

“This is especially important for many parents in the UAE who have children who plan to attend university abroad which is a huge planning, logistical and financial undertaking. So thinking about it sooner means fewer financial challenges down the line.”

Q: What are the consequences/risk for failing to meet financial obligations in the event there is a loss of employment or unforeseen circumstances?

“This is an important point as it underlines the importance of not overstretching yourself financially. Lenders everywhere will have processes in place for missed or late payments which usually involve late charges or additional interest to pay over time.

“Regularly missing payments can also affect a customers’ credit rating which would make loan applications in the future more difficult.

“Borrowers should always speak to their bank or lender about their own individual circumstances if they are struggling to make payments. There may be options for parents on payment breaks or restructuring their loans so it is always a good idea to speak openly to your bank.”

Q. What are the trends as of late? Are we seeing more demand for school fee loans/credit, or less, or no change with the onset of Covid?

“Covid was – and continues to be – a huge disruption on people’s finances. It’s difficult to assess the full extent of it in relation to credit and savings for families but we know it has been difficult for many parents.”

Q. Any other advice to offer parents or families who may be considering financing their school / tuition fees?

“Customers need to review all their options before taking on additional, significant borrowing. Check out the rates, potential financing partnerships with your school and anything else that matters to your individual circumstances.

“If it’s too late to fund education by saving, at least ensure you have a detailed plan and manageable timeframe for paying off any debt you incur.”

What is out there?

Emirates NBD:
An Emirates NBD Credit Card allows customers to pay their outstanding education fees using the Plus Points (their loyalty rewards programme) or convert the fees into 0% instalments for up to 24 months.

HSBC
Use your HSBC credit card for a 0% Flexible Instalment Plan to repay fees. Spreading the school fees over several months without any interest on repayments can provide significant relief for parents.

Loan-AsYouGo, a product which is a short-term loan that allows parents to cover school fees one term at a time while spreading instalments monthly. The benefit is that the education provider offers discounts to fees when tuition is fully paid up”

RAK Bank:
RAK Bank has recently launched its Skiply App! This allows parents to use their credit cards to make monthly payments directly to schools.

First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB)
FAB offers a GEMS Titanium Credit Card to customers. This card carries a number of benefits such as up to 4.25% discount on advance payment of GEMS fees, 0% Easy Payment Plan for up to 12 months for GEMS fees and Education Protection insurance cover of up to AED 500,000 per child.

Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB)
Dubai Islamic Bank is now offering a personal credit card that sees 3% cash back on school fees, among other expenses. This can lower your overall education costs, and is not linked to only one school or provider. There is no interest associated with this option as it is a Sharia Compliant service, but it does require a minimum salary of 5000 aed a month, most likely transferred to a DIB account. You may also want to contact the bank regarding monthly fees for outstanding payments on the card.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)

ADCB offers 0% interest school fee payment plans on personal credit cards. There is a processing fee ranging from 2% to 3.5% depending on how many months your plan is for, and there is also an early settlement fee of 200 AED should you choose to pay this off early.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however does provide examples of how banks and financial institutions are increasingly prioritising school fees in their list of services, whether it be loans or credit card facilities.

About The Author
Aimon Sabawi
Aimon Sabawi is Dubai-based writer, actor and business consultant. He began his career in academic retail management with Follett Higher Education Group in the United States. Aimon went on to relocate to the UAE in 2008, joining as one of the first operations team members of the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB). He soon transitioned into private education, assuming the role of Director of Admissions for a group of high-profile British curriculum schools. Aimon ended his K-12 career as a teacher of Business & Economics, providing him both administrative and academic exposure to the UAE education industry. Aimon holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Florida, a Masters in Education from the British University in Dubai, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Buckingham. He has published research on socio-linguistics, and presented it worldwide in various refereed conferences. His primary research interests are vocational studies, Emirati culture, and educational technology. You may contact Aimon Sabawi at [email protected]

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