UAE’s affordable schools report increased enrolment as parents opt for low-fee options

Some low-cost schools said they are oversubscribed with long waiting lists

Affordable schools in the UAE have reported increased enrolment this year as parents look to lower their education spending.

Some low-cost schools said they are oversubscribed with long waiting lists.

Headteachers said parents were looking for lower-fee options and moving children out of expensive schools.

Registrars in the emirates also said they admitted pupils weeks after schools opened on August 30.

The Winchester School, Jebel Ali, said it doubled the number of new admissions this year.

The school said 700 new children joined this academic year as compared to an average of 350 in the past.

Muneer Chalil, principal at Darul Huda Islamic School, an Indian curriculum school in Al Ain. Courtesy: Darul Huda Islamic School

Fees at the school range from Dh13,800 for foundation stage to Dh30,800 for year 13.

Meenakshi Dahiya, principal at The Winchester School, said: “Every year we have a long waiting list and this year it’s even longer.

“We have more than 4,200 pupils at our school of which more than 700 pupils have joined this year.

“We did not get many pupils from outside the country but we got many pupils from higher-fee schools."

The number of pupils remains high even after factoring in those who left the school in the past months due the pandemic.

Darul Huda Islamic School, an Indian curriculum school in Al Ain, where fees range from Dh5,000 in kindergarten to Dh10,300 in grade 12, is running at full capacity with 1,800 pupils.

Muneer Chalil, principal at the school, said: “We have around 200 new pupils [this year]. Pupils are moving from other schools. We attract people in the middle-income group.”

Headteachers said parents were switching schools even in the middle of the first term.

Many parents who waited for schools to reopen are now applying to different schools.

Officials at Delhi Private School Dubai said the school now has 3,800 children, the largest pupil population in its history.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 14, 2019: Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal at Delhi Private School. Rahhal programme is in its second phase and heads of schools are discussing the challenges it faces. Thursday the 14th of February 2019 at The Gardens, Jebel Ali, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal at the school, said: “We are absolutely full, and have recruited 150 pupils more than the number we do annually.

“Every year 500 pupils are recruited but this year that number has gone up to 650 pupils.

“We do see that parents are moving to affordable schools which have a good rating."

Ms Nandkeolyar said the quality of learning at the school and its affordable fees helped attract pupils.

Fees at the school range from Dh10,298 in kindergarten to Dh14,416 in grade 12.

The Indian High School has more than 17,000 pupils, making it the UAE’s largest school.

Punit Vasu, its chief executive, said the school received 2,000-3,000 applications per month since the pandemic started.

Muneer Ansari, director at the International Indian School in Abu Dhabi, said the school had 750 pupils this year, up from 600 in 2019.

"It is not a huge surge but we have enrolled pupils and have noticed parents are choosing schools with lower fees,” he said.

Mr Ansari said the school's parent community had been affected by job losses and pay cuts.

"We had many pupils seeking admissions as they are moving out from American and British curriculum schools," he said.

While around 100 pupils left the school, there are close to 150 children who joined this year.

Some schools lowered their fees and have reported an increase in new admissions.

Hartland International School, a British curriculum school in Dubai, reduced its fees by up to Dh15,000 this year.

The fee for year one pupils has been reduced from Dh65,000 in 2019 to Dh49,800 this year.

Fiona Cottam, principal at Hartland International School, said: "We have recruited incredibly well and have taken 100 new pupils which in this climate is quite unusual.

"We are seeing lots of movement across the city and are seeing lots of new people coming in as well."

Ms Cottam said the reduced fees helped parents stay back at the school.

"They might have had to leave as they could not afford the existing fees. We did lose many pupils because parents lost their jobs."

In June, education experts at Boston Consulting Group predicted that UAE's most expensive schools could take the biggest financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic as parents looked at moving their children to more affordable mid-tier schools.