When education becomes a luxury: UAE school fees placing massive pressures on parents
Nine out of 10 parents in the UAE say school fees cause financial stress for them, a survey by a Dubai-based school guide revealed on Wednesday.
The survey results, exclusively available with XPRESS, also show that one in three parents pay their children’s school fees late and two out of 10 take personal loans to pay them.
The study, conducted by the dedicated school guide WhichSchoolAdvisor.com surveyed 1,072 parents across the emirates over the past two months.
“The results are unambiguous — nine out of 10 parents or 87 per cent claim school fees cause financial stress. UAE officials tasked with assessing whether schools can put up their fees, and by how much, are very much between a rock and a hard place.
On one side are schools claiming they are working with rising costs and shrinking margins. On the other side are parents living with the same price inflation, but often a static household income,” said James Mullan, co-founder of the school guide.
He noted that the stress has implications across the survey’s findings. “It affects almost every response — even in areas where there seems no direct, rational link. If education providers want parents to think their schools are better, it’s simple — lower costs. Parents are more satisfied with the quality of education and logically believe schools are better value as financial stress is alleviated.”
Mullan said 72 per cent of parents in Indian schools said they are financially stressed, with the figure going up to 94 per cent in British schools and 96 per cent in American schools.
“This clearly makes some sense. Indian schools cost a fraction of the fees of UK or US curricula schools. This is tied into the purchasing power of the demographics of each school — in general Indian expats are less well paid than Western counterparts.”
The survey says one in three parents admit to having paid school fees late. “At one school, six in 10 parents did not pay at any one time. In general, financial difficulty was the main reason for non-payment (66.7 per cent), followed by general disorganisation (14 per cent) and disagreement with payment dates (eight per cent). Interestingly, 22 per cent of parents who were late said it was no more than one week, 34 per cent two weeks, and 32 per cent one month. Eleven per cent admitted to having been one term late.
Mullan said taking out a personal loan to cover school fees is a last resort of most parents, over two out of 10 parents have taken loans to cover fees at some point.
“For the majority that has meant bank debt, but a surprising number of respondents have borrowed from friends and families. Many use credit cards — one in four — to pay school fees, but in a majority of cases this is a short term measure, with the credit card paid within the billing cycle.
Pointing to other findings where financial stress played a role, Mullan said a sizeable 77 per cent of cases had never sent their kids on a school trip abroad and over 19 per cent never sent them for any extracurricular activities.
Asked if paying for extra curricular activities was a source of financial stress, a substantial 66 per cent said ‘yes’.