Parents put foot down on school fees

Committee says Gems management of Dubai Modern High School should look for other ways to generate income.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Jan 29: Parents of students studying in the Dubai Modern High School going to meet the Principal against school fee hike at Modern High School (GEMS) in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) *** Local Caption ***  PS16- SILENT PROTEST.jpg
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DUBAI // Disgruntled parents have stepped up their campaign to block a fee increase at an Indian-curriculum private school here, brandishing a survey yesterday showing that most of them were unwilling to pay the new fees, which are set to increase by 90 per cent over the next two years. "The vast majority of parents do not accept this new structure and are not prepared to pay," said Ray Chaudhuri, a member of a parent committee that held a press conference yesterday in Dubai.

Global Education Management Systems (Gems), the owner of Dubai Modern High School (DMHS), maintains that it was forced to raise its fees to finance a move to a new campus after being evicted by the current landowner, whom it has declined to name. The increase was approved by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the agency that regulates school fees in Dubai, after reducing it from 110 per cent.

Parents are asking the company to freeze the increase until after the next academic year, which starts in April, saying they were not given enough advance notice to make other arrangements for their children. "They should have given us some time at least," said Priya Bhatia, who has two children at the school. "What they are doing it is not right. If they had to do this they should have informed us."

Parents are also concerned about health and safety at the new campus since heavy construction is still under way. They want an independent medical body to certify that the new premises are safe. Gems, which operates 26 schools in the UAE, has not backed down but assured parents that the new site will be complete by April. Dipen Mehta, a member of the parental committee, said the fee increase was approved "during sunny times" and urged that it be rethought since costs, rents and returns have gone down. Parents also want Gems to pay teachers more competitive salaries, and recommend that school facilities be used for evening and weekend events to generate more income.

Gems issued a statement yesterday, saying that both it and the school "value the views of parents that were expressed today, and continuously engage in dialogue with them''. "We recognise the needs of parents and offer financial assistance to families facing special hardship," it said. A Gems spokeswoman said, "DMHS has been forced to relocate. The landlord wanted the site back and will not give the school access to it beyond the end of the academic year. Facing the unenviable choice between investing in the construction of a new school or closing DMHS, Gems has aligned future fees with the costs associated with building a new facility in Nad al Sheba." She added that Gems would "always listen to the concerns of parents".

More than 900 parents representing at least 1,300 of the school's nearly 2,300 pupils took part in the survey, which found that families pay an average Dh41,500 per annum on a single child's education, including the cost of transportation, books and uniforms. Among those who responded, 98 per cent said they were unwilling to pay the new fees. Sixty-four per cent said no fee increase could be justified, and 34 per cent said this particular increase was too large.

Parents say that they are awaiting reply from Gems and the KHDA on a way forward. "Here they are playing with our children's future, and we are not going to take it lying down," Mr Mehta said. The school was given permission to raise fees after it received an eviction notice at its present campus in Al Wasl, part of the area set to be cleared to make way for the now-postponed Jumeirah Garden City development.

"They lost the land due to the planned real estate development in the area," said Mohammed Darwish, chief of licensing and customer relations at KHDA. According to Mr Darwish, Gems was granted permission for the increase based on its business plan for the Dh240m (US$65.3m) relocation, although he said the authority was not in the habit of auditing books to determine profits and losses. "The KHDA does not micromanage private schools in Dubai,'' he said.