Readers weigh in on the vexing issue of school fees

On the Money Response to the school fees columns of the past two weeks have prompted many concerned parents to air their concerns.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
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I've received some interesting responses to the school-fee issue that I've been writing about for the past two weeks. This week, On The Money has been turned over to our readers, who air their views on the issue. Understandably, they have requested not to have their names published, either because of their professional positions or they want to protect their children from possible fallout from the schools they are attending.

I read your column about schools in Abu Dhabi last week with interest and, like others, was very curious about which schools you were referring to.

My husband and I are in the process of trying to work out what on earth to do about schools. We have a three-year-old and a two-year-old and live in Khalifa City. Where we work, school fees are paid from the year the child turns five, so we have missed the round of applications for most of the schools here, which start with FS1 or KG1 at the age of three, and will wait for next year. This seriously limits the options, as many schools have practically no places available in FS2 or KG2. We started making a list and trying to write pros and cons for each of the five schools near our house, but have realised that each pro or con deserves different weight, so we're going to have to revise it. Also, regardless of what we want, our choice may be made for us by whatever school is left with any available space.

I'm very interested to know how the schools spend the fees they receive, as some of the most expensive schools here seem to pay their teachers terribly. One rumour I've heard was in the region of Dh8,000 per month, which seems incredibly low. I am very interested to know the teachers' opinions of their schools, as often this is the opinion that doesn't get voiced. I'm aware that it doesn't pay to publicly express negative opinions of one's workplace, but statistics such as staff turnover can often tell the story well enough.

Back to our list, one school that immediately got crossed off the list was any GEMS school. To include "education management systems" in the acronym just feels wrong. As my husband said, he doesn't want our daughter to just become another cheeseburger. I guess we're idealistic educators at heart and want our kids to go to a great school, have enthusiastic, happy, well-paid teachers, a caring management that is not solely motivated by the bottom line, and good resources. Name withheld by request

I am really very disappointed that expats (and yes, I am an expat Australian) are complaining about school fees. Even at the proposed Dh66,000 quoted in your column this week, this is not extraordinary for what is essentially private schooling. Surely the following must be asked: do we pay taxes? Clearly the answer is no, yet the expectation is that the services that are normally provided by a government based on income tax contributions such as health care, transport/roads and schools should be provided. Having lived previously as an "expat" in the UK for six years, I chose, not being satisfied with the schooling system, to educate my daughter privately. The same is the situation here. I appreciate that lack of availability of places turns many expats in the UAE, and Abu Dhabi particularly, to schools that are fee paying and then those schools themselves do not deliver to expectation, ie pools, teacher/staff churn etc. The fees, though, should not be the focus. A private school education is costly across the world and, along with food and fuel, is on an upwards trend. I know: my daughter is currently boarding at a UK school and her fees will increase in September, having also increased last year.

We (expats) are essentially blessed in that we can (in most cases due to expat packages and a tax-free lifestyle) afford the fees. If the quality of education is not meeting expectation, then that is another matter and the argument should be for school boards and council participation by parents. For those that find it a stretch (and this includes myself), there are always choices in life and perhaps the live-in maid or extra overseas holiday per year needs to be sacrificed? Name withheld by request

I am writing as the principal of an American school, which has applied and received a provisional school licence in a smaller city in Abu Dhabi. We had hoped to start this September. The school will employ primarily American and western teachers and is managed by an American company, which already runs six high-quality international schools in the Far East. The school programme is dynamic and effective, aiming to not just provide strong academics, but address the issue of developing character as well. So what's the problem?

Our school cannot get Adec approval to charge a high enough tuition to make ends meet. In order to build a new school campus and hire the quality staff that we need, we need minimum tuitions to average around Dh35,000 to Dh38,000 annually. This tuition includes book fees. Instead, we have been approved for an average annual tuition of Dh23,000 to Dh24,000. We asked Adec why. They said, "Because it's Al Ain." Sounds pretty arbitrary to me. If we plug these numbers into the Adec financial template that we filled out, we'll lose around Dh18 million over the next five years. We must decline this amazing opportunity.

So we're left with a provisional school licence, a piece of land to build a new campus on, and a tuition level that will bankrupt us. School tuition works both ways. Parents have a right to quality schooling for their money. New schools like ours, with western teachers and a great programme, as well as a history of running successful schools in Asia, have the right to charge a tuition that allows them to break even and have a little extra to pour back into the school. A school principal

I really enjoyed reading the article. I feel totally the same way about the international school my children attend.

Just too many unfulfilled promises, and teachers? No way are they getting paid what they deserve! So why would they put in all the hard work? Of course, some do and we see that, but come on! It's supposed to be one of the best schools here.

And swimming? Well, it only started recently and it's almost the end of the school year. I'm very disappointed to say the least.

Why are the school fees so high? They're just ripping people off! Name withheld by request