Doha: ith the cost of living in Qatar incessantly on the rise, expatriates are finding it increasingly difficult to afford sending their children to schools.
According to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, average education costs in Qatar rose 7.1 per cent from June 2015 to June 2016.
School fees range anywhere from QR8,000 (Dh8,068) per annum to as high as QR60,000 (Dh60,517) per annum.
Comparing average annual school fees in the Gulf, Qatar, by far, is the most expensive.
For Grades 11 and 12 in Indian schools having the CBSE curriculum, Birla Public School in Qatar charges Dh19,500 while schools of the same level in Dubai are charging significantly less. Our Own English High School in Dubai charges Dh13,000 while the Fahaheel Al Watanieh Indian Private School charges Dh11,000.
Oman and Bahrain stood at the lowest, with average costs ranging from Dh3,600 to Dh4,200.
Schools in Qatar justify the increases by claiming that teachers’ salaries must be raised to adjust to the rising cost of living in the country.
“Prices are going up for everything, even petrol. We have no other way to compensate for this except to increase the fees,” said MES Indian School principal A.P. Sasidharan, said.
“Parents complain about fee increase and private schools seek permission to raise their fees to meet increasing operational costs,” said Mohammad Bin Abdul Wahid Al Hammadi, Minister of Education and Higher Education.
“We are between the hammer and the anvil. We are doing our best to keep a balance between the two,” he said. “We can’t force the schools to operate while facing financial loss.”
But Abdul Aziz Fathi, an expatriate parent, is sceptical.
“The schools say they have all these expenses apart from teachers’ salaries, like maintenance and facility rentals, but if you do the math and calculate how much one class generates, you will be quite shocked,” he told Gulf News.
He pays QR20,000 to send his son to KG1 and says there are around 25 children in his class and six separate classes in KG1 alone. If you indeed do the maths, one KG1 class alone can rake in around QR3 million.
Sania Akram, a teacher at a British curriculum school in Doha, said she and other teachers at the school had only received marginal increments of QR300 per year. “There have been no substantial increments and we live in the same accommodation where the rent has not increased,” she said.
Schools also claim that fee hikes go towards upgrading facilities in the school.
“I have not seen any noticeable changes in terms of better facilities,” Doaa Jabir, an expatriate mother, told Gulf News.
Fathi agreed. “My son has been in the same school for four years and I discovered by pure coincidence that there is a swimming pool,” he said.
“He only got to use it in his fifth year,” he added.
Schools in Qatar who wish to hike their fees must present their requests to the ministry, which then decides on them based on different criteria.
Two years ago, the ministry rejected a large percentage of applications for fee increases due to the institutions’ failures to show evidence to support their requests.
Following this, the Supreme Council of Education launched a five-point plan that covered various criteria to make school fee hikes more transparent.
The criteria include the current level of tuition fees and surcharges, previous fees and the number of times a school was granted permission to increase fees in recent years; parents’ and pupils’ assessments of their teachers; financial situation of the school; and the school’s accreditation status.
This year, a total of 162 schools in Qatar applied for fee hikes, according to local media reports, but 66 per cent of them were rejected.
Fifty-five schools, which were allowed to carry out hikes, increased their fees from two to seven per cent for the current school year.
Sobin Thomas, an accountant, says around 20 per cent of his monthly income goes towards school fees for his two children, both attending Indian schools.
“My younger son is only in KG1 and my older daughter is in Grade 5. I am paying a monthly average of QR1,600 for their school fees alone. On top of that, there are other school-related expenses,” he said.
“It is absolutely necessary that both parents work here to comfortably afford tuition.”
Shereen Dsouza is a freelance journalist based in Doha