Dubai College announces 5% school fee increase despite KHDA fee freeze. UAE parents react.
Parents of children at British-curriculum secondary school Dubai College have been informed that it will be increasing its fees by 5% next academic year 2022-2023.
The move comes despite an emirate-wide school-fee-freeze for the majority of UAE education providers, and at a time when UAE families are already facing rising costs, with record-level fuel prices and inflation affecting many essential food items.
Nevertheless, parents’ reactions have been mixed, with some sources telling SchoolsCompared that they are supportive of the fee increase, while others expressed fear that increasing education costs might force them to actually leave the UAE because it will no longer be affordable to live here.
Why can some schools raise school fees when it was already announced that they have been frozen?
The Dubai private-school regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), announced in March that all Dubai school fees will remain static for the 2022 – 2023 academic year, for the third year in a row.
However, Dubai College is one of only 15 (out of a total of 219) private schools in Dubai that is classed as a Not For Profit (NFP) school, and this group of schools have been exempted from the fee freeze.
The KHDA defines a Not For Profit school as:
“A school which is governed by an independent board with parent representation and operates for non-profit purposes with no parties benefitting financially, and gets its non-profit status from the relevant authorities as per their licensing procedure. Fiscal surpluses, if any, are invested back into the institution to further the pursuit of its goals.”
By contrast, the remaining 200 or so For Profit schools in Dubai are defined as:
“Schools that operate for a profit and are run by individuals, profit-generating companies or organisations.”
The view of parents: “We will have to cut back on things to be able to afford it”
Dubai College’s formidable academic reputation and selective application process means that many parents feel grateful that their children are able to attend the school at all, so they are probably more accepting of fee increases than parents in other schools might be.
But one parent of twins – one of whom attends Dubai College – told SchoolsCompared that the family will need to cut back on other expenses in order to be able to afford the DC fee increase and any other increases that might be imminent.
“Overall of course I prefer not to have a 5% increase in school fees,” said the mother, who wishes to remain anonymous for this story:
“It’s already been a huge jump for us going from paying Dh40,000 – Dh50,000 at primary school to now paying Dh83,000 for Dubai College at secondary. I certainly don’t want a 5% increase on top of that.”
“Although I sympathise with all the reasons why the fees have been increased [see DC Headmaster’s justification below], I don’t really understand why only Not For Profit schools can raise fees, when all schools have presumably been subject to the same conditions that the Headmaster uses to justify the increase – such as employing extra staff for health and safety and doctors over the pandemic, and paying for more Arabic teachers due to increased requirements for Arabic to be taught in later years.”
“I know other mothers do have stronger opinions about the fee increase, but I personally feel like we can’t really do anything about it.”
“We just have to pay it and cut back on things in our own lives – our kids are not doing certain extra-curricular activities any more just to cover the costs.”
“However, the fact is that if we leave the UAE to go back to our home country, it’ll be because the school fees here have become too high for us to afford.”
The view of parents: “It’s the necessary cost of an outstanding education”
According to independent data from education market research tool EdStaticaTM the cost of school fees for the majority of parents whose children go to Dubai College represents about 15% of their annual income. This means that a 5% increase in fees is not yet hitting the sort of pain point that might cause an uproar.
Indeed, some parents we spoke to felt strongly that they can see the value for money at the school, despite the fee increase. One father of two told SchoolsCompared:
“We place our children’s education above everything else. It is a top priority. Whilst nobody likes to pay more money, we also recognize that DC’s academic qualifications are unparalleled globally. It’s an incredibly strong school and we are very lucky to be here. I think the fees are justified given the quality of education that we get from Dubai College.”
A mother of two boys at Dubai College – one of whom is in year 11, while the oldest has now left for university – agreed:
“I’ve spoken to so many parents within the community and we all feel the same. I’m an oldie now at DC because I’ve had two children go through it. We see how absolutely outstanding the school is and how the money is pumped back into the gym for our older boy who plays rugby, and in so many ways they benefit.”
“None of us wants to pay more, but we have absolutely no gripes about DC, because we absolutely see the benefits.”
Dubai College’s justification for raising school fees
Michael Lambert, Headmaster of Dubai College, wrote a letter to parents to inform them of the rise. Given the sensitivity of this issue – and the worry of many parents, we are printing Mr Lambert’s full communication to parents following:
“I am writing to notify you that there will be a 5% increase in school fees next academic year as approved by the KHDA and the board of governors at Dubai College.”
“During the early stages of the pandemic, we were sensitive to the instability which COVID-19 created for many of the families whose children attend Dubai College. For this reason, despite rising costs, we made the decision to maintain our fees at their 2019 levels by paying close attention to the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of our expenditure, ensuring that we provided value-for-money to parents of a not-for-profit school. Housing allowances were reduced by 20% for all staff, salaries for new staff were adjusted where appropriate, we switched insurance providers and cut other costs such as school maintenance. These measures enabled us to secure savings of over AED2million. At the same time, however, the revenue which we used to generate by acting as the ABRSM examination centre for Dubai ceased when ABRSM music examinations moved online. Similarly, we were only able to use our buses at 50% capacity and we were unable to rent out facilities due to COVID-19, all of which negated most of our cost saving.”
“Furthermore, due to increased regulatory demands, including those associated with COVID-19, our expenditure has continued to rise. As you may be aware, Arabic for non-native speakers is now mandatory until the end of Year 10, which has necessitated the appointment of 1.5 additional full-time equivalent members of Arabic teaching staff this year. Furthermore, as part of the COVID-19 protocols, we have been required to hire a doctor, a nurse, and a health and safety officer specifically for COVID-19 related matters. In addition, we have paid our ancillary staff overtime for COVID-19 related sanitising and cleaning work and have invested heavily in our IT infrastructure and hardware to enable continuous learning throughout the past 18 months.”
“The total cost of these mandatory increases so far equates to 3.9% of revenue. Those of you who attend the Head’s Annual Update will also be aware that we are also determined to maintain our 44-year old campus to ensure that our physical infrastructure remains fit for purpose in the 21st century. For these reasons, as a not-for-profit which is not bound by the Education Cost Index, we applied to the KHDA for a 5% fee increase for the 2022-23 academic year. Our application was approved and has now been ratified by our board of governors. As ever, every dirham we charge will continue to be reinvested in the College so that we can provide an exceptional education for the current students and generations to come.”
Dubai College has been the first, and currently only, (NFP) school to announce a fee rise – but many parents we know are now concerned at whether other not-for-profit schools will now follow Dubai College’s decision and increase fees too.
We have asked other not-for-profit schools to comment and are awaiting their response.
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