Dh455 for a nursery uniform: Parents tell of mounting back-to-school costs

Families already grappling with the rising cost of living look for ways to cut expenses ahead of new academic year

Yara Mahmoud, 40, from Jordan, and her son, Jad Thaer, checking the size of his uniform before he starts grade 1 at Sharjah’s International School of Chouiefat. Photo: Yara Mahmoud
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Parents in the UAE have told of the financial challenges they face as the new school year approaches, after rises in tuition fees, rent and the general cost of living.

Tens of thousands of pupils will return to classrooms across the Emirates on August 28, requiring parents to pay for new uniforms, textbooks and transport fees.

One mother said her family is moving to a smaller apartment to ease their financial burden.

“We're looking at a few thousand dirhams just for basic items like textbooks, stationery, and uniforms. And that's before we even think about technology or extra-curricular activities,” said Qamar Mohammed, 39, who lives in Sharjah and has two children.

“To add more to our financial responsibilities, we have to move out from our apartment because the landlord increased the rent.

“With the choices around us, it seems we might be moving to a one-bedroom apartment to be able to afford school requirements and rising living costs,” said Ms Qamar.

Tuition fees increase

Private schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah were permitted to raise tuition fees for the 2023-2024 academic year, the first increase in three years.

In Abu Dhabi, schools were allowed to raise fees by up to 3.94 per cent, depending on performance.

Some Dubai private schools were permitted to increase tuition fees by up to 6 per cent, while Sharjah schools were able to raise tuition costs by 5 per cent.

Parents have sought to trim back spending by carpooling and exchanging second-hand textbooks but this only mitigates so much of their expenses.

One parent said her child's school in Sharjah had increased transport fees for the new academic year.

“Last year we paid Dh3,600 on school transportation within Sharjah, but this year it has been increased to Dh5,500 for each child,” said the mother of three.

How to cut down on costs

She said some parents are getting together to make carshare arrangements to save money.

She also buys uniforms directly from retailers rather than from the school to make further savings.

Uniform prices differ depending on the school and age of child, typically ranging from Dh250 to more than D1,000 in some instances.

Norah Khalid, 45, from Egypt, said she had been buying from uniform shops for many years.

“At my children’s school a T-shirt costs around Dh50, trousers and jacket Dh100 each, but from the uniform shop I get all three pieces for a little over Dh100,” said Ms Khalid.

As for textbooks, this is the second year she exchanged some with other parents for her daughter, a Grade 5 pupil at Rosary Private School in Sharjah.

“The costs just keep going up, and this puts us in a situation where we have to come up with ways to save a little,” said Ms Khalid.

Fatemah Abdullah from Abu Dhabi said last week she paid Dh455 for her daughter's nursery uniform.

“I consider this price reasonable but uniform costs at my other three children’s private school are insane,” she said.

“Their prices range between Dh78 and Dh89 for a T-shirt, Dh89 and Dh99 for a shirt, Dh99 and Dh120 for shorts, Dh131 a trousers and Dh367 for a blazer.”

She said there are no uniform shops in the emirate selling school uniforms, meaning she must buy them directly from the school.

Growing pains

Yara Mahmoud, 40, whose son Jad Thaer is a grade 1 pupil at Sharjah’s International School of Chouiefat, said a major issue for parents is how quickly some children outgrow costly uniforms.

“We fully understand that quality comes at a price, and while the uniforms are on the pricier side, I'd be OK with it if they were to last for a full school year,” said Ms Mahmoud, from Jordan.

“Younger children grow quite rapidly. In some instances, I had to purchase a new uniform midway through the year because of how quickly my son outgrew it.”

Trader welcomes summer surge

LCT Uniforms, which has outlets in Sharjah and Dubai, has experienced a boost in trade as the new school year rapidly approaches.

The business, established in 1989, also sells other attire such as hotel and medical wear but typically enjoys a summer back-to-school surge as parents return from holidays.

Owner Abdalrauf Siddiqi said he aims to provide affordable school clothing for parents.

“The company functions as more than a storefront. As uniform manufacturers, we serve a diverse customer base which extends beyond parents.

“We also supply uniforms to various schools, as well as retailers in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and certain African countries.”

Parents can pick up school T-shirts for Dh25, shorts for Dh30 and shirts, trousers and jackets from Dh30.

Updated: August 09, 2023, 2:00 AM