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Parents stretched as UAE firms cut education allowances

DUBAI // Parents are struggling to pay for their children’s education, with employers cutting or doing away with allowances as school fees rise along with the wider cost of living.

And there are fears that cutting those allowances will make it harder to attract the best and brightest from overseas to work here, at a cost to the economy.

“This year in Abu Dhabi there will be a 3 per cent tax on rents, VAT will add more to everyday purchases and utilities bills are rising,” said Judith Finnemore, a manager at Education Consulting and School Improvement.

“Employers are looking to cut back so the days of funding employees’ children are numbered, if they haven’t slid off the horizon already.”

One mother, who runs her own business with her husband, has three children at Dubai American Academy and said she was paying Dh80,000 in tuition fees for each.

She said they were also having to cut back on the perks they offer to employees.

“We run a business and it’s getting to the stage now that we are having to reduce the education benefits we can offer because they are getting too expensive,” the businesswoman said.

She believed that in the long term, the economy would suffer as continually rising fees made it more expensive to hire staff.

German resident Maria has three children at Jumeira Baccalaureate School and said that tuition fees had risen by about Dh11,000 on last year.

The family will spend about Dh200,000 for tuition fees from next year, she said.

“We run our own business so the school fees aren’t covered by an employer,” Maria said.

Schools face their own battles as a slowing economy triggered by low oil prices and job losses in the energy industry place heavy burdens.

An oversupply of school places is also a major challenge, as are rising overheads, difficulty retaining good teachers and demand for higher salaries as competition for staff between schools increases. All add pressure to lift tuition fees.

Ms Finnemore said the education sector was in a vicious cycle as the schools inspection framework added to the burden on schools to hire more qualified staff, thus pushing up salaries.

“The laws of supply and demand can force up salaries,” she said.

Experts said it was imperative for education providers to consult parents on fee increases, attract sponsorship and open schools to the paying public to weather the slowing economy.

Salaries for most people have stagnated, so parents are struggling to stretch their budgets to meet fee rises.

According to a study by investment bank Alpen Capital, the number of UAE schools is projected to increase from 1,184 in 2014 to 1,406 by 2020.

Dubai is expecting 20 schools to open by the end of this year, on top of the 173 already operating.

This is breeding competition, with schools offering fee discounts and scholarships for some students.

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications for education company Taaleem, said schools were competing to attract the best teachers.

“We compete in a global market to attract and retain the very best educators, with the right experience, a proven track record and specific skills,” Mr Pierrepont said.

“Therefore, we have to provide competitive rates of pay, annual salary reviews, professional development and a range of benefits.

About 70 per cent of a school’s budget is allocated to staffing and the cost of school overheads rise by between 5 and 10 per cent a year, he said.

The Ministry of Education now manages public schools with the aim of improving standards but problems remain in staffing levels, motivating Arabic teachers, attracting Emirati men to teaching and low satisfaction levels of Emirati female teachers.

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(via The National)