According to a recent HSBC study UAE school fees are reported to be the second-highest in the world after Hong Kong. It’s estimated that, from primary school to university, the average parent will shell out Dh365,025 over the course of one child’s education. At no time are the financial implications of this more apparent than during the back-to-school period, where most parents will be looking at significantly lighter wallets after handing over fat cheques for the upcoming school term.
Additionally, although education costs are reportedly exempt, the spectre of a 5% VAT on all goods and services is looming on the horizon for the UAE from January 2018, meaning that household costs are inevitably going to go up.
Combined with stagnating salaries across most sectors, most of us would jump at the chance to save a few dirhams on schooling if it were possible.
And there might just be a way to achieve this, according to one education expert. This year, almost 20 new schools have opened in Dubai alone, the KHDA reports - the highest number of schools opening in one year that the emirate has ever witnessed. This is despite the fact that the inflow and outflow of expat workers to the UAE seems to have stabilized in 2017 compared to last year, when many firms were downsizing, according to Gulf News, so there are still more school spaces available than ever before.
This means that whereas parents used to have to fight tooth and nail to reserve their children a spot in the UAE – sometimes registering their child’s name with a school before the baby had even been born – the shoe may finally be on the other foot. Parents potentially have some leverage to negotiate, says Fiona Mackenzie, director of Gabbitas Middle East, a company of educational consultants who help parents to find the right school for their children in the UAE and internationally.
“School fee discounting is not something that many schools will confess to as it leads to all sorts of complications,” says Fiona. “However, there is no denying that many schools have got spare capacity at the moment, especially at the premium end [of the market].
“What we are noticing, particularly with new schools, is that they are offering great deals for new starters such as Founders scholarships, which in some cases extend for the whole time the child is at the school. This can be a massive saving over a four or five-year period. Some schools are also including things in the fees that would previously have been charged as extras – such as a set of uniform, or are not charging for any extracurricular activities, even those that are run by external providers. Schools are definitely having to look at providing better value for money as part of being competitive in the market.
“I would certainly recommend negotiating if there is more than one child in the family, some schools will do a sibling discount. If a child is very academic, sporty, arty, or musical for example then it is also worth asking about scholarships in these areas.”
Fiona continues: “Some schools will be prepared to give a discount if parents pay in cash up front for the year. That is definitely a negotiating point.”
Sunday 10th September is the official first day of school for the UAE (although many children have already started this week) – this could be food for thought if you haven’t already paid up for the year.
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