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08 June 2023

Does your firm pay your kids’ soaring school fee?

By Shuchita Kapur

Soaring school fees in Dubai is a contentious issue. With each year, almost all schools in the city, go for a fee hike as residents complain of stagnant career growth without any increments or bonuses.

Surveys reveal that not even 15 per cent of companies in the city cover education costs fully, leaving the employees to manage it on their own.

“After housing, education is the second biggest expenditure for most in Dubai and is something you can’t compromise on. They are a big drain on the family budget, especially when the pay packages are  not what they used to be,” complained a mother of two school going kids.

Gareth El Mettouri, Associate Director for Robert Half’s Middle East operations states the figure is a meager 12 per cent, while commenting on the number of companies giving education allowance to their employees.

“According to a survey of HR directors conducted at the beginning of this year, only 12 per cent of Dubai companies are offering subsidised training or education as an employee benefit to the general employee base. However, those who have a management remit are generally seeing their education allowance offset by their employer,” he told Emirates 24|7.

A poll run by this website shows that only a minority of the companies cover the education costs of the children, giving a breather to parents.

Twelve per cent of the respondents in the poll said the school fees for their kids are fully covered, whereas for 9 per cent of the participants it is covered but only partially and the rest of it has to be borne by the individual.

“Schooling is so expensive! My husband’s company pays Dh15,000 per annum towards schooling but it’s just a small portion, considering the fact that I pay nearly Dh40,000 for grade 1 for my kid,” wrote a reader.

For the majority (79 per cent), it is a cost they have to foot fully but 23 per cent of those who are not entitled to such an allowance believe this cost should be a must in the contract just like the housing allowance. However, 56 per cent are a pessimistic lot as they have no hope of getting it covered from their company.

“Our company pays zero, zilch, nada. So, we didn’t send our little ones to school until they were five,” wrote another reader.

Looking at the other side of the coin, those who do get an education allowance complain this perk only reduces the basic pay, which means lower gratuity at the end of the employment contract.

“Some companies prefer to pay house, school, car and even phone bills but keep the basic salary very low. This way they control their monthly budget as well as end of service benefits. Others pay a high basic pay,” said one reader.

“It is true that often schooling allowance is offered to support, on one hand, the employee, and to be an ‘increase’ to him/her, without being an increase in basic salary (with all its implications). It is only in the cases that the schooling allowance is over and above the salary that is really an extra. However, even in these cases, it is not often the case that the full schooling is covered. On the contrary, even for very senior executives, often only a percentage of the schooling fees is covered,” explained Konstantina  Sakellariou, Partner, Marketing & Operations Director at Stanton Chase.

“Every company and situation is unique and it is up to the individual, at time of salary negotiation, to specify which areas are of greatest importance. For those who are looking to pursue additional training or education once employed with the company, it is important to fully research the cost of the programme and present this to the supervising manager, offering specific information on how the company will benefit from the additional knowledge and expertise. Often this can be discussed during the annual review process or during ad-hoc one-on-one discussions,” added the Robert Half expert.

But given the state of the international job market, are candidates very particular to get this allowance incorporated in the contract when they move to the city? Not really, say experts.

“Overall, education allowance has not been one of the primary benefit requests asked by new expatriates or nationals in Dubai. More common are benefits such as housing or relocation assistance with education credits further down the wish list,” said Mettouri.