Private schools said they are considering whether to raise fees if a government freeze is lifted next year.
Several school leaders said the rising cost of living for parents would be a major factor in the decision, as is tough competition between the top providers.
Dubai's government has frozen private tuition fees for three years in a row. Before that, fees could be raised by about 2 per cent to 5 per cent annually, depending on academic performance.
Shiny Davison, principal at the Indian Academy in Dubai, said the school would not raise its fees for the 2023-2024 academic year.
“We have decided not to increase the fees [even if the freeze is lifted] because we understand the parent community's struggle after Covid,” she said.
“We decided to take the tough call and have already submitted our parent-school contract without an increase in fees.
“With inflation, we want to give it some time before we go for an increase.”
Ms Davison said the school’s management held several meetings and decided they could maintain teaching standards at the current fee level.
Fees at the school range from Dh9,355 for pupils in pre-kindergarten to Dh18,675 for Grade 12 pupils.
Any increase in tuition fees is based on the Education Cost Index (ECI), announced annually by regulators.
The ECI measures annual changes in school running costs, including salaries, rents and utilities.
Both the ECI and the fee framework were developed in collaboration with government departments such as the Dubai Statistics Centre, the Department of Economic Development and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce.
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Deepika Thapar Singh, principal at Credence High School in Dubai, said the school had not increased its fees since it was launched in 2014 and does not plan to do so in the next academic year.
“This is something that we have not even thought about,” said Ms Singh.
“Even in the past, when the fees were not frozen, we had opportunities to increase the fees, but we never increased them.
“Right through the pandemic, we understood that we couldn't shift the burden on [to] the parents, they were already going through a tough time.”
The school doubled its pupil population from about 684 in 2019 to close to 1,586 in 2022 but class sizes were capped at 25 in lower grades and 30 in higher grades.
Fees at the school range from Dh15,000 in kindergarten to Dh26,000 in Grade 12.
Some school groups to consider fee increase on a case-by-case basis
Punit Vasu, chief executive of The Indian High Group of Schools, said the schools had not increased fees since 2019 but would consider a rise in the next academic year, depending on the economic situation at the time.
The group of schools is registered as a non-profit and has chosen to keep fees stagnant over the past three years.
Non-profit schools in the city are allowed to increase fees after seeking approval, although for-profit schools have had fees frozen for three years.
At least four non-profit schools in Dubai increased fees by 5 per cent to 8 per cent this academic year.
“Families lost sources of income and were financially hit because of the pandemic,” said Mr Vasu.
“Our stakeholders did not increase the fees over the last two years as they took into account job losses, salary cuts and financial despair.
“It would have been impossible, unethical, impractical and completely against the ethos of this school to impose a fee hike on parents then, even though we were permitted to apply for a hike.
“Hence, the fee structure remains at pre-pandemic levels and the school remains one of the most economical across the UAE.”
The school hired many teachers and staff members last year and built two new buildings in the past two years. It also bought new buses.
“We invested in our team by giving increments to all eligible teaching and non-teaching staff,” said Mr Vasu.
“These have obviously led to increased operating costs but we have made a conscious decision to keep the fee structure unchanged. This has led to extreme financial discipline.”
Alan Williamson, chief executive of Taaleem, one of UAE’s largest school operators, said if regulators approved an inflation-linked fee increase, they would consider it on a case-by-case basis.
“We have a strategic plan for the next five years but it isn't dependent on a fee increase. Most school groups continue to remain profitable without the fee increase,” he said.
“I trust the regulator and the ECI will approve fee hikes linked to inflationary pressures. If there is a fee increase, we will strategically use that on a case-by-case basis across our portfolio of schools.
“We've got used to dealing with inflationary pressures and Taaleem now has economies of scale with its large portfolio.
“We have a business plan for the years ahead that will be profitable and lucrative whether there is a fee increase or not.”
In 2020, Taaleem had 13,200 pupils, while in 2022 it had more than 27,400.
Mr Williamson said they have been on a hiring spree as the group had opened several new schools across the country. From 17 schools in 2021, there are now 26 schools under the Taaleem umbrella.
He said they were able to give teachers increments in the current year.