DUBAI: More schools to go Westminster way

XPRESS, 19-12-2012 19:36:47

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Schools charging less than Dh15,000 could close: Varkey
Schools charging less than Dh15,000 fees will have to shut down eventually says Chairman of GEMS Education


DUBAI: Schools charging less than Dh15,000 annual tuition fees will have to shut down eventually, Sunny Varkey, Chairman of GEMS Education, told XPRESS in an exclusive interview.

The warning comes two days after he announced the closure of The Westminster School in Dubai.

“It is impossible to run a good school with fees as low as Dh6,000. If the KHDA does not allow us to restructure fees, no school charging fees below Dh15,000 will survive in the UAE. In ten years they will all be gone,” he said.

Our Own High School, Our Own Indian School and Our Own English High School are among several GEMS Indian schools for which the annual fee is less than Dh15,000.

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Sunday shocker

On Sunday, GEMS announced it is closing down The Westminster School in Al Ghusais by July 2014 as it’s not financially viable under current fee regulations. The British curriculum school charges between Dh6,000 and Dh10,000 annually.

But even as parents express shock and outrage at the imminent closure of the 5,000-student school, Varkey remains unfazed. He even hinted that other low-cost international schools such as Winchester and Al Khaleej Private School could face a similar fate if Dubai’s school regulator KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) does not review the fee cap for private schools.

“For the last five years, we have been sustaining our old schools by compromising on quality. But we do not want to run bad schools. That is why we are forced to take tough decisions,” said Varkey, who heads the GEMS group, the single biggest private education company in the world with a network of schools in several countries. The group owns 37 schools in the UAE,

“New schools are getting ahead of the race as they are charging higher tuition. All schools that have opened in the last two to three years have tuition fees in excess of Dh15,000. Our old schools cannot pull on if their fees are not restructured and aligned with operational costs,” he said, adding that they have lost 40 per cent of their teaching staff to competitors who are able to pay higher salaries because of the higher fees they charge.

“We have been pushing the KHDA to allow us to increase fees so that we can run these schools successfully. They are just being parent-friendly and not looking at long-term education goals. Schools have to last for hundreds of years. Parents will stay here for a few years. They come and go,” said Varkey.

Asked whether his Our Own brand of Indian schools with low fees will also face closure in future, Varkey said he was able to sustain them with the 20 per cent fee hike they have been getting for the last three years. “The Indian schools were saved by the Minister of Education who allowed us the fee increase. We would not have been able to run them with the three to five per cent increase permitted by KHDA.”

Fee increase

In 2010, Humaid Mohammad Obaid Al Qutami, Minister of Education, allowed five GEMS Indian schools to increase fees by 15 and 20 per cent for three consecutive years. The decision overruled an earlier KHDA ruling banning schools from hiking fees.

Varkey said schools should be allowed to restructure their fees with 10-15 per cent hikes every three years apart from the 3 per cent annual increases.

“Rents and teacher salaries have gone up and the fees are not aligned with the increased operational cost. We are in the business of running outstanding schools, and authorities should understand that without fee increases, we will be unable to do so.”

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