School seats go on ‘sale’

DUBAI Fierce competition is pushing Dubai schools to offer unprecedented discounts to attract students as thousands of new seats open up for admission, a new study has revealed.
Sharing the study’s findings exclusively with XPRESS, online educational consultancy said that from common early bird and sibling discounts to more innovative schemes pegged around referrals, credit card payments and founder reductions, the ‘sale’ of seats has taken various forms.
“September 2014 has been a game-changer for schooling in Dubai. Almost 23,000 new seats have opened up for admission across 11 new schools in the city. And with another 80 schools planned over the next six years, choice is the new word in parents’ vocabulary,” said James Mullan, the consultancy’s co-founder.
According to the study, the GEMS group, which has over two dozen schools in the UAE, has various schemes. “In existing schools (as well as the new ones), they have a ‘refer a friend scheme’. Upon completion of the registration and attendance of the friend’s child, the referrer receives either a four per cent discount on their own child’s fees or a cash-back payment of the four per cent. GEMS parents who pay for fees using the GEMS NBAD credit card get a discount of 11 per cent on the fees,” said Mullan.
He added that most new schools in the GEMS stable have discounted rates. “We know there is an unspecified reduction at the New Millenium Al Khail, as well as in GEMS Firstpoint and GEMS Metropole. At GEMS Wellington Al Khail, the approved fees from FS1 to Year 9 is Dh52,000 to Dh85,000, but a 20 per cent discount is being offered for child 3 and a 50 per cent discount for child 4.”
Mullan said discounts are an important factor in how schools attract students. “According to our survey, nine out of 10 parents in the UAE said that school fees were causing them financial distress, although parents also decide on the school based on the curriculum, reputation etc.”
The study said the recently opened Foremarke School is charging a “founders fees” which applies to students joining the school until September 2016. Similarly, the study said Safa Community School charges between Dh38,500 and Dh55,000 for FS1 to Year 8 as against an approved range of Dh47,000-Dh65,000.He said fees for newer schools are generally considerably higher than those of existing schools as they know they cannot increase the fees for the first three years. “So if the schools want to attract students already in a school in Dubai, discounts enable them to encourage such movement. We have direct information from some new schools that 10 per cent upward of students who have joined them have transferred from other schools.”
Early bird and sibling discounts are common, a case in point being the Nord Anglia International School, which opened last month. Similarly, the FS1 to Year 6 fees for 2014 at the Capital School is offering a five per cent discount for the second child. According to Mullan, the Ontario International Canadian School (OICS) offers two discounts plus a further one for Canadian students.
None of the schools except OICS responded to XPRESS queries.
OICS said: “This is the first Canadian curriculum school in Dubai. In the lead-up to its opening in September, 2014, the school offered a discount for first-time registrants as an incentive given that the school had no instructional history to share with parents. As a Canadian school, it did offer an additional tuition discount for students from Canadian families.”
For the 2014-15 school year, the undiscounted tuition ranges from Dh34,500 (Pre-Kindergarten) to Dh60,075 (Grade 6). This tuition range is fixed for three years. For the school’s first year, the discounted tuition ranged from Dh30,000 to Dh58,000. The discount for Canadian students is set at 10 per cent of the discounted first school year tuition, that is, Dh28,000 to Dh56,000.
The principal of a prominent Indian school said: “Discounts are usually perceived as business gimmicks. In our school, we do not offer any except a budgeted freeship where we are willing to waive up to 70 per cent of the fees if there is a dire financial situation, a sudden job loss or a terminal illness in the child’s family and a similar discount for our staff members’ children.”

Discounted fees at some schools

GEMS Firstpoint: FS 1 to Year 8 - Dh30,400 to Dh44,000 (KHDA approval is for Dh38,000 to Dh55,000)

GEMS Metropole: FS 1 to Year 8 - Dh26,400 to Dh35,200 (KHDA approved range Dh33,000-Dh44,000)

Foremarke School: FS 1 to Year 4 Dh19,500 to Dh25,500 (From 2016, it will be Dh27,000 to Dh29,400)

Nord Anglia International School: FS 1 to Year 9: For families who registered before September 1 Dh52,000 to Dh75,000. Post -September 1 rate Dh60,000 to Dh80,000 with a discount of five per cent for child 3 and 10 per cent for child 4+.

Capital School: FS 1 to Year 6 -Dh26,000- Dh 37,000 (Dh30,000 to Dh42,000 next year).

You Speak: What factors do you look for when choosing a school?