Sunny Varkey: Can't Afford a School? Don't Choose it...

Sunny Varkey: Can't Afford a School? Don't Choose it...
By David Westley
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“If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble... Parents can very well see which are the schools that are good, outstanding, fair, or not good. And, accordingly, they can choose a school.”

In a frank interview with Gulf Business magazine GEMS Education chairman, Sunny Varkey, has told UAE parents to "stop moaning" about the price of education and choose schools they can afford instead.

"Dubai is a place where, depending on your financial resources, you can choose a school model. If you want to choose a school that is $10,000, you have it. If you want to send your children to a school that is $3,000, you have it," Varkey said.

“If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble."

GEMs Education itself is adept at tailoring its schools for different curricula, nationalities and purchasing power with school fees ranging from from 10,000 AED up to almost 100,000 AED.

"Parents can very well see which are the schools that are [ranked] Good, Outstanding, [Acceptable], or not good. And, accordingly, they can choose a school,” he added.

Varkey claimed a new school would need to charge a minimum AED12,000 ($3267) per student per year in order to survive. “I would say about AED12,000 upwards per annum for an Asian curriculum and AED18,000 upwards for the English curriculum,” he told Gulf Business.

While few could really dispute Varkey's logic, to be fair to parents, the complaint is often not about school fees per se, but school fee increases. In Dubai, these are determined by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and based on performance. Schools rated as Outstanding can increase their fees by double the educational cost index (ECI). Those rated good may increase fees by 1.5 times the ECI, while others can only charge the ECI. In other emirates, the Education Authority typically monitors rises in education costs.

In the 2012/13 academic year Dubai's KHDA ruled that the cost of education provision had actually declined, and ruled that schools in the emirate would not be able to increase their fees.

“This has been an issue we have been facing, especially with old schools that were established in the last 20 years, where the fees have not increased in line with inflation... [And] if we are not sustainable as a business, we can’t build more schools to help children."

The large education providers in the UAE are private companies and do not publish details of their revenues or margins. As a result, there is often a disconnect between how much parents believe schools make from education provision in the UAE, and how much schools claim to make.

In interviews conducted by Which School Advisor, educationalists in the emirate have told us it takes approximately 12 years for a typical K-12 school to pay back its set up capital costs.


The full Gulf Business interview with Sunny Varki may be found here. It discusses GEMs' charitable initiatives, the company's global ambitions, as well as more generally the future of the education sector.

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