Coronavirus: Parents frustrated as schools demand bank statements before cutting fees

Gems was among the UAE education groups to ask for letters from employers prior to agreeing to school fee reductions

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The UAE’s largest school operator has been criticised after telling parents they would be means tested before being entitled to reductions in fees.

Earlier this week, Gems Education said families who had been "adversely impacted" by the coronavirus pandemic could receive financial help from the group.

The move was initially welcomed by parents anxious to reduce their spending in light of the potential economic repercussions of the outbreak.

But Gems later revealed it would require bank statements and letters from employers before offering the discounts.

This means-tested approach will allow us to allocate our relief efforts to those most in need during these unprecedented times

The provider did not comment on parents' criticism on Thursday, but earlier this week said the "means-tested approach will allow us to allocate our relief efforts to those most in need".

It said the move would allow it to "retain all of our teachers and manage our cost base".

Parents said they should not have to hand over their personal income details in exchange for relief.

“What they are suggesting is just crass,” said Samiah Hamdani, 45, who pays Dh155,000 a year for her two teenage boys to attend Gems schools.

“They are being so insensitive. It’s obvious they could afford to offer a flat reduction in fees as a goodwill gesture to all parents especially when plenty of other schools in the country, who don’t charge as much in fees, are able to do it.

“My daughter goes to a non-profit school and even they offered us a discount.”

Gems Education manages more than 250 schools around the world, teaching some 174,000 pupils.

This week, officials sent a letter to parents in the UAE saying they could apply for reduced fees provided they met a certain criteria. The conditions included the loss of a job, being placed on unpaid leave or being required to take a pay cut.

Parents were also told the group reserved the right to contact employers to verify any documents.

On Thursday, many parents said they were taken back by the means testing policy.

They pointed out that other schools in the Emirates had agreed to reduce fees by as much as 50 per cent for all pupils, regardless of individual financial circumstances.

Others have offered a 25 per cent reduction for the summer term owing to the UAE’s remote learning programme continuing until the start of the next academic year in September.

“We are asking for a discount across the board,” said Bindu Jag, from India, who pays more than Dh145,000 a year in Gems school fees.

“Our family’s income may not be hit now but will be in six months’ time.

“Gems is asking for bank statements and we would not want to share our personal documents.

“The smaller schools are most affected but they have gone ahead and offered discounts.

“This [pandemic will have] a long-term impact and we do not know what the next few months will be like.”

On Wednesday, parents at Kings School Dubai, another school operator, also said they were unhappy at not being offered a flat discount on school fees.

Families have launched an online petition asking the school to provide a 30 per cent reduction in the cost of education for the summer term.

So far, more than 760 parents have signed the appeal, arguing that given school premises were not being used - lowering operating costs - it was reasonable to also expect a reduction in fees.

“Children are not attending school for the entire semester, neither using the premises, utilities, facilities nor all extra circular activities which are now closed for the entire semester thus reducing the school’s costs,” the petition said.

“While we appreciate the school’s decision to pay its staff in full, we also firmly believe that this is purely an employer’s decision and responsibility and that the financial implications of this decision must not be passed on to the parents.”

The petition also stated it was unfair to ask parents to pay the full amount when they were currently spending anywhere from five to seven hours a day assisting their children while they completed online lessons.

“The school is asking for bank statements to prove people do not have the means to pay,” said Natasha Rawden, who has two children enrolled at a Kings school and pays close to Dh125,000 a year in tuition fees.

“This is awful and is an invasion of our privacy. They deposited our cheques for term three without informing us.

“We wrote to the school and told them we should have had prior warning and some compensation.

“Many people may not be in much financial difficulty at the moment but things may change.”

The National approached Kings' School Dubai for comment but received no response.

Gems Education said they would not be commenting on the matter.