The annual KHDA School Fees Framework allows schools to increase fees depending on their inspection results and the Education Cost Index (ECI). The decision to freeze fees comes as a result of the outcome of the calculation of the ECI by the Dubai Statistics Centre at -2.35 per cent.
This is the second year in which schools have been advised that they are not permitted to increase fees except in exceptional situations, when they may apply for exemption from the ruling. A decision by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, through the Dubai Executive Council to freeze fees in 2017-18, was widely welcomed by parents, but created considerable concern within the education community.
Mohammed Darwish, Head of KHDA’s regulations and permits commission said the decision "prioritises the interests of students and parents and encourages investment in the education sector by allowing schools to develop long-term growth plans, as well as motivating existing schools to improve the quality of education they offer. The Education Cost Index provides complete transparency to both families and investors and balances expectations.”
Over the past seven years, there has been an increase of 31 per cent in the number of students attending private schools, with the opening of 72 schools enrolling more than 70,000 additional pupils. Enrollment increased by 2.9 per cent last year, according to the KHDA’s latest Education Landscape report.
Both annual and later bi-annual increases were the norm in the 2000's. The KHDA first announced the decision to link school inspection performance to fee increases in 2008 for the 2009-10 academic year, a period that was economically not too different to the situation today.
At that time, the KHDA stated that "we are working towards a time when the schools themselves have the liberty to be their own regulators. However, until then, there are three main reasons why we are doing this:
1. Mis-match between demand and supply. Once this is balanced, that will be the time to liberate schools from our school fee regulation.
2. Transparency is crucial if quality is to be maintained. By having DSIB [the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau] inspect all the schools, we have an independent neutral opinion about whether or not a school is providing quality education.
3. The current global situation is forcing people in all businesses to put regulation in place, and in this way we are no different."
Interestingly, it also said that "KHDA’s long-term plan “is the gradual liberation of the private education sector”. The decision and the timing of this will be driven by a demand-supply balance and the maturity of the private school sector. The opening of enough good new schools should look after the demand while the DSIB reports will speak about the maturity of the school sector in terms of measured student progress, self-evaluation, good governance and a general self-awareness of the way the schools run themselves."
Ten years on, it seems that schools are still some way from being permitted to set their own fees...