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Foreign schools target rich Middle Eastern parents with empty promises

  • The Repton school Dubai example

Foreign schools eager for new markets and often starved for liquidity back home, now are looking to Dubai and the wider Middle East where strong economies, and massive governments push to boost management skills have created a pool of potential costly diplomas.

Primary and secondary schools from across the world are eying the small, but growing new niche in the Middle Eastern students’ taste for foreign education. Many British schools have already launched programs in the Emirates, where they are luring local students to their campuses with advertising campaigns and big promises.

Conservative culture and strong ambitions make the U.A.E. a perfect place to set up shop. The Government is pouring money into education in an effort to tackle high unemployment and train the local population to run the big businesses that now often depend on expat talent. Anxious to broaden the economy, government institutions are investing billions in new industries, and overseas schools are expected to help providing the trained executives they will need. Local people are eager to learn, and they value international expertise.

Unfortunately, most of these schools invite students only with glossy advertising campaigns and promisses of administrative staff, but not with quality of academic achievements.

Strong example in Dubai is Repton school. The impressive, well structured campus located in Nadha Al Sheba 3, first opened its doors back in 2007. Right from the start, tuition fees were fixed higher than these of any other established good British school in Dubai. The range starts from AED42,500 to AED85,000, although the highest year cost was reduced recently by AED7,000. Repton school lunches are priced at approximately fifty dirhams a day, because the school cook was previously a five star hotel chef. The uniform comprises of various attires, totaling nearly AED1000, with only a jacket, made from cheap polyester material, with no branding attached, priced at over AED270. In a contrast to it, there is no cost for school books, because at Repton school teachers believe they do not need books to teach.

Devoted parents reluctant to provide the best possible education – money can buy – to their children, were at first attracted by advertisements, the huge promises of admission staff and the superb facility’s features. Still, these primary attractions of Repon school continue to impress newcomers to Dubai.

Why newcomers?

Ever since 2007, many high net worth expat along with Emirati students and parents joined and left Repton school bitterly disappointed by the lack of truly proper learning environment and most importantly – bellow the average academic achievements. According to parents’ observations, withdrawals from the school continue to be in excess of 30 percent per year, although the principal Mr. Jonathan Hughes D’Aeth commented that the rate was reduced to approximately 15 percent in 2011. Here is worth mentioning that the admissions’ waiting lists of more modest, but outstanding-rated British schools in Dubai comprise of 100ds of names.

“We feel absolutely cheated! Now I am requesting a refund of two-year tuition fees,” commented the mother of Rashid, an Emirati former student at Repton school. “The school looks really nice and the facilities are great, but the education standards are very poor. Several times I have approached the principals, the owner (Evolvence Capital) and KHDA with complaints… Most of our friends have already moved their children to the GEMS schools”, she continued.

In an open letter to parents, the senior school principal, Mr Nicholas Clements shared that in 2011 only few Repton school graduates (approximately 11) have been accepted into universities worldwide, none top ranked. Such fact must be a huge disappointment to students, driven by strong ambitions and bright hopes for their future. In a comparison, the university acceptance rate at Jumeirah English Speaking School is 94 percent, although the school is newer.

Aimee A., mother of a former primary school student said:”It is sad, as Repton school is known as a good school back in the U.K. Although since the beginning, the expatwoman forum in Dubai has been buzzing with complaints from angry parents, a little has improved during the last four years.”

Other expatwoman forum posters wrote: “Their whole business model is wrong.”

Angered parents point out as major problems at Repton school:

  • lack of strong leadership;
  • outdated/inefficient/watered down curriculum;
  • low staff morale;
  • insufficient funds spent on completing facilities and renewing resources;
  • short lesson times (30 minutes in total);
  • too much moving around of children;
  • closed-door policy for parents (no parents-teacher meetings);
  • untrained teachers, often without teaching diplomas covering for frequently absent staff.

KHDA wasn’t very helpful to complaining parents, as apparently there is no solution that can change the school policies fast.

The question remains: “Are academic achievements justifying tuition fees, or the tuition fees are yet to be justified by the academic achievements?”



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