Parents have welcomed a freeze on tuition fees in Dubai - but an expert warns schools face a battle to maintain standards of education against a backdrop of an "alarming" rise in costs.
The Dubai Executive Council ordered this week that fees at private schools across the city would not to be increased for the forthcoming academic year in order to reduce the financial burden on parents.
It is the first time that tuition fees at private schools in Dubai have not risen since 2013.
In February, The National reported that more than 20 Dubai schools had lowered or frozen fees. Repton School Dubai and Foremarke School Dubai announced a reduction of around 10 per cent while Horizon International School slashed its fees by 33 per cent.
Judith Finnemore, managing consultant of Focal Pont Management Consultancy and a governor of a school in Dubai, believes that the quality of education could be impacted by the freeze in fees.
Ms Finnemore said: “I understand parents are being hit financially and this will be welcome for them. As a school governor, I also sympathise with schools. The cost of administration, materials and day-to-day running costs is rising, in some case quite alarmingly. If schools have to find the money for those rising costs, where is this to come from?
"Many schools are running on very tight margins and they simply do not have the reserves to sit back and absorb the rising costs. If schools are forced to run on a deficit budget, they will cut services and quality will suffer for pupils."
She feels that “maybe the fee freeze should have been for those high-cost schools rather than those charging very modest fees.”
Schools in Dubai vary widely when it comes to fees. Repton School, for example, charges Dh 95,000 for year 12 and 13 while Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistani School-Dubai charges Dh 6,259 for year 12.
Ms Finnemore says the demand is for more affordable schools as many companies are choosing not to fully pay for their employees' children's school fees.
Ayesha Umair, a Pakistani parent living in Dubai, said: “My husband's company doesn't sponsor our children's education, so it is a relief that tuition fees have been frozen. Currently, my five-year-old son is attending school but next year, we are enrolling our daughter. With the fee freeze we are benefiting.”
“Basic tuition fees do not include bus fees, and several activities conducted in school. This decision from the government provides some relief, if not a lot,” said Elizabeth Jacob, an Indian mother of a seven-year-old in Dubai.
Clementina Kongslund, an expatriate living in Dubai, who has two children studying at GEMS School, is curious to see how he news will affect the school's budget and teacher salaries.
Maryum Rizvi, an expatriate mum living in Dubai, added: "In the scenario of ever increasing costs, I welcome this decision and am happy that an increase in our expenditure will not happen."
Rashmi Nandkeolyar, the principal and director of Delhi Private School in Dubai, said: “Parents will be extremely pleased to hear that there is no fee hike this year. We have been getting requests for fee waivers in the past. As an Indian school though things are going to be tough. We take pride in managing with the resources that we have and we always do very well. That will continue to be so."
The UAE is one of the biggest international private school markets in the world. A 2017 KHDA report revealed that there are 195 private schools in Dubai with nearly 274,000 pupils.