How Dubai schools can offer good education 'without the bells and whistles'

Schools are cutting costs and coming up with creative solutions to keep prices competitive

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 18, 2019: Tour of Apple International School, Principal Mahesh Sajnani. Wednesday the 18th of September 2019. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Schools in Dubai are aiming to keep standards high and fees low to meet a growing demand for affordable education from parents.

Schools in the emirate are introducing initiatives to ensure prices are competitive, with money-saving measures including streamlining the staff recruitment process, sharing resources and cutting back on the use of consultancy firms.

One school leader said it was important to 'strike a balance' between keeping tuition costs down and ensuring the quality of education provided does not suffer.

It is a strategy that is paying off for The Apple International School, offering the British curriculum, which has maintained a "good rating" in inspection rankings while charging between Dh6,465 and Dh15,310 a year.

Other schools rated "good" by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai's private schools regulator, charge far more.

Swiss International School in Dubai charges between Dh60,000 and Dh120,000 annually, while parents sending children to Kent College Dubai can expect to spend between Dh54,000 and Dh98,000, if they are not eligible for discounts.

Mahesh Sajnani, principal at The Apple International School, Damascus Street Branch, said there is a high demand for affordable British education in the emirate.

"We reduced costs by hiring fresh graduates from different countries. They are willing to work at lower salaries as they get trained and on many occasions get hired by very good schools," said Mr Sajnani.

"Usually schools do not want to hire fresh graduates, but we train these teachers and support them for their career growth."

Teachers' salaries at the school range from Dh4,000 to Dh10,000 per month.

"Our rooms are a slightly small and we try to keep the class size under 30," he said.

Due to high demand, The Apple International School expanded to a new campus this year.

At present, 2,300 pupils are enrolled at the existing campus while the new branch has 408 pupils.

"Nearly 2,100 pupils were on the waiting list and could not get admission at the school between 2016 and 2019," the principal said.

"Making a profit is not the only way that education can be provided. We have fewer resources but can provide a good education at a low cost."

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 18, 2019: Tour of Apple International School. Wednesday the 18th of September 2019. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Apple International School has hired graduate teachers and carried out recruitment in-house in order to keep fees low. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The school reduced costs by ensuring the human resources department at the school hires staff instead of paying a consultancy.

"In our main branch we do not have a swimming pool or extravagant facilities. We make that up with after-school support or sending pupils to different clubs or partner schools who help us," said Mr Sajnani.

Another school which has followed the affordable trend is Ambassador International Academy, which brands itself as Dubai's first affordable International Baccalaureate school.

While IB schools in Dubai charge tuition fees up to Dh76,000 for kindergarten, Ambassador International Academy, which has opened this year, charged between Dh28,400 and Dh32,400 for the same grade.

Kamal Kalwani, chief executive of Ambassador Education in Dubai, a private school operator, started the school as he wished to make the IB curriculum accessible to all.

"We are not compromising on salaries of teachers as any teacher who wants to teach in Dubai will shop around for the best options," said Mr Kalwani.

Teachers at Ambassador International Academy are paid between Dh15,000 and Dh25,000.

"We reduced costs by sharing our resources between the schools run by the group and hiring a diverse group of teachers."

The school has centralised administrative and managerial roles to bring down costs. It has also hired freshers from Ireland, Philippines and South Africa and ensured they were trained by existing staff.

"Many teachers are attracted to the proposition of teaching in an IB curriculum school," said Mr Kalwani.

"We launched an affordable IB school as we believed this is the need of the hour in the community.

"Parents told us they wanted their children to study in IB curriculum schools but could not afford it.

DUBAI ,  UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , SEPTEMBER 11 – 2019 :- Kamal Kalwani , Vice Chairperson at the Ambassador International Academy in Al Khail Gate , Al Quoz  in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Anam
Kamal Kalwani, chief executive of Ambassador Education in Dubai, a private school operator, said there is no need to compromise on teachers' salaries to keep down costs. Pawan Singh / The National

"You can strike a balance and give a quality education to pupils, even with low fees."

Dr Vandana Lula, governing board member at Ambassador Schools, explained that the school was able to reduce fees by staggering training, conducting in-house training and developing resources within the school.

Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education, an international consultancy based in Dubai, said that affordable education is a significant trend in the emirate.

"More expensive schools have very highly qualified teachers and smaller class sizes," said Ms McKenzie.

Overheads such as luxurious facilities and having highly-qualified teachers made some schools more expensive than others offering the same curriculum, she said.

"The core education is the same but the way it is delivered and the opportunities that are given to the children are variable.

"A family can choose to put their child in an affordable British curriculum school, and will get a solid education for their child but for some families, they want all the bells and whistles.

"The appetite for premium schools is waning for a lot of parents, especially for parents who have not been used to paying for education in their home countries.

"To come here and pay a significant part of your income on school fees is an alien concept to many parents, and finding a good education at an affordable price point has become a key driver."