Some schools in the UAE have agreed to cut fees by up to 50 per cent – but are calling for parents' support to protect the salaries of dedicated staff.
Headteachers said they understood the financial pressures parents face because of the pandemic, but said they relied on school fees to pay their teachers.
Education authorities appealed to parents and schools to make a fair compromise.
On Monday, the Ministry of Education announced that schools and universities would continue distance learning and keep campuses closed until the end of the academic year.
Abdul Kadooz, the principal of the Pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School Sharjah, said they are willing to reduce fees by up to 50 per cent.
Schools announce tuition fee cuts
• Tuition fees will be reduced by 20 per cent at Horizon English School and Horizon International School
• Safa Community School to reduce fees for term 3 by 20 per cent
• The Next Generation School offers 20 per cent discount on third term fees
• Dubai English Speaking School reduces its fees by 20 percent for primary and secondary education
The school, which has 1,845 pupils, will be starting its academic year in April. Its fees range from Dh4,050 to Dh7,450.
“We will be sending out fee invoices to our parents soon and based on the feedback we get from them, we will see what kind of payment structure we can offer,” Mr Kadooz said. “We still have to pay our teachers and employees, so if the parents can pay up to 50 or 60 per cent of the fees, that would help.
“Right now, we are trying to secure our relationship with our parents. We understand the current situation.”
School operator Al Najah Education has reduced fees by 20 per cent for term three across all year groups at Horizon English School and Horizon International School in Dubai, covering 2,000 pupils.
"These are unprecedented times and communities need to pull together," said Raza Khan, chief executive officer of Al Najah Education.
With the discount, we are doing our part to help families through the hard times that lie ahead."
Ambassador Education, which runs four schools in the UAE that serve about 5,000 pupils in total, has waived transportation and lunch fees for the third term.
Amol Vaidya, the senior operations director for the Global Indian International School in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said it is still “too early” for them to take a call on tuition fee discounts.
He said management and operation costs at the schools have increased as they’ve had to carry out digital training for their teachers and purchase e-learning platform licenses.
“As school management, I see all operation costs going up in all levels,” said Mr Vaidya.
Dinesh Kothari, managing director at Delhi Private School Dubai said, salaries and rent are two of the main costs a school has to bear.
Fees at the school ranges from Dh11,000 to Dh 15,000 and Mr Kothari said it would be difficult for the school to pay staff if fees were reduced.
The school has offered a monthly payment scheme to parents who requested this.
"We appreciate parents' concern but they should appreciate that schools are providing top quality distance learning," said Mr Kothari.
"My advice to parents is don’t panic. We are working to make sure pupils' interests are not compromised."
On Tuesday, Safa Community School said it would cut tuition fees for term 3 by 20 per cent.
In a letter to parents, Stephen Duckitt, the school's principal, said anyone who had already paid the full amount would be refunded.
"We know that all families, some more than others, will need to review their financial positions during these challenging times. We as a school recognise your circumstances."
The Next Generation School in Dubai is giving a 20 per cent discount for the third term fees. They have 1,050 pupils and fees ranges from dh26,000 to dh38,500 for KG to year 7.
The school said many parents came forward with requests as their families were struggling with pay and job cuts.
The country's biggest school operators - Gems, Taaleem and Aldar - told The National no decision had been taken on potential fee reductions.
Abu Dhabi authority urges schools to ease fees burden
Abu Dhabi's private school regulator asked headteachers to refund transport fees for the third term and reduce the burden of fees where possible.
In a letter to principals, the Department of Education and Knowledge said: "Schools are strongly encouraged to give parents a discount on tuition fees. This discount can be activated through a credit for their tuition fees for the next academic year.
"Parents who have been adversely affected during this situation, whether they lost their employment or have been forced to take unpaid leave, might face difficulties in settling their fees in a timely manner.
"These families should not be affected negatively. We recommend developing a payment facilitation scheme for these families.
"Teachers are working diligently during this time and we strongly encourage against pay cuts as this will affect your ability to retain them past this crisis.”
Dubai regulator: schools are 'free' to reduce costs for parents
In a letter to school principals, Mohammed Darwish, chief executive of permits and compliance at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, called on schools to support parents facing financial challenges.
"We know that schools are sympathetic to the circumstances of parents who are facing financial uncertainty and trying to manage financial obligations. We encourage schools to support these parents as much as possible," he wrote.
"We understand that schools may want to provide additional support to parents who are experiencing financial difficulties. In these exceptional circumstances, schools are free to offer a discount on school fees during the period of distance learning."
Schools are allowed to change payment terms to suit parents’ needs, such as offering monthly payment options.
KHDA has advised schools to contact parents who have not yet paid school fees for the third term to offer the option of a payment plan that is agreeable to both the school and the parent.
Parents can also choose to move their children to another school before the beginning of the third semester or within the first three weeks and are entitled to a full refund if they withdraw before the beginning of the term.