Make schooling more affordable, premium schools boss says

CEO of EKI elaborates on move to slash fees at pricey Repton and Foremarke schools in Dubai

21:04 January 4, 2018
NAT_180102_Nitin Kripalani_CE1

Dubai: Pricey schools should be made more affordable so UAE parents can focus solely on quality when choosing schools, an Evolvence Knowledge Investments (EKI) official said.

The EKI is the majority shareholder in Repton School Dubai, one of Dubai’s most expensive schools that recently announced a tuition fee reduction.

In an interview, Nitin Kripalani, CEO of EKI, told Gulf News that taking out the price point from the decision-making equation for parents helps schools as well, by making them more attractive than competitors.

Late last year, Repton School Dubai, rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Dubai government, announced it has reduced its senior school tuition fees by 10 per cent on average for the 2018-19 cycle, which starts in September.

It will also freeze fees at its junior school.

The announcement means the annual fees for Year 7, for instance, will drop from Dh83,600 to Dh75,000 next school year, and Year 13 fees will fall from Dh103,300 to Dh95,000.

Another school run by EKI — Foremarke School Dubai — has also decided to reduce fees by 10 per cent for the 2018-19 academic year. New fees at the school, rated ‘Good’, will range from Dh58,500 for Foundation Stage 1 to Dh76,500 for Year 6.

It is rare for Dubai schools to slash tuition fees outright, although many offer “sibling discounts” or scholarships.

So far, Repton and Foremarke appear to be the only schools that have made public announcements about lowering their fees for the coming academic year.

This school year, although around 160 schools were deemed eligible by authorities to increase fees, more than 20 decided to stay the course and freeze fees.

Rising competition because of more schools opening, a lower Education Cost Index this year (2.4 per cent) and stagnant salaries, of many parents, have all added to the downward pressure on school fees in Dubai.

Speaking about rising competition, especially among upmarket schools, Kripalani said “good players” stand to benefit from the trend.

“I think increased competition at times is good because it differentiates the good players … For us, it is just an opportunity to differentiate ourselves. We don’t think we will be impacted as much because we have a brand name and we have a track record that parents aspire,” Kripalani said.

“In fact, I would encourage parents, now that you have a wider variety of choice, to go out there and ask schools more questions.”

Speaking about EKI’s move to decrease fees at Repton and Foremarke in Dubai, Kripalani described it as a “large, strategic decision” aimed at multiple fronts.

One concern was “the current economic pressure on parents”, Repton School Dubai had stated last October amid its 10th anniversary celebrations.

“I think it’s reflecting of the current economic market. I’m not sure if, across the city, salaries are increasing at the same pace at which school fees have been increasing,” Kripalani told Gulf News.

“So school fees had become a bone of contention and an affordability issue, and that is what we have addressed, especially if you look at it from our perspective. We did an analysis between our [senior school] and the competition, and we saw that we were around 10 per cent higher than our competition.”

He added: “We strongly believe the quality of the academic provision at our schools is second to none, so we wanted to take the price decision out of the equation — we wanted parents to make a decision based on quality, not on prices.”

For the schools, the decision on fees was also taken to stay competitive, Kripalani said.

“If you look at where we are, we are now among the best schools in the UAE. Our IGCSE results, our IB results are among the best in class … But to be the best in the world, you have to attract the best pupils, and if you start losing pupils who can’t afford your fees, then it doesn’t help you perform academically.

“At the same time, we are in the education business — you do want to make your fees affordable to as wide an audience as possible. But the critical element for any business, including education in schools, when reducing fees is that you should not be comprising on quality.”