NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL
School fees force expats to send children home
UAE - OCT 13: Soaring school fees are forcing expatriate parents in Dubai to send their children home for schooling, a report has claimed, raising concerns that families may be increasingly discouraged from moving to the UAE.
The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has monitored the cost of consumer goods and services for the past three years, said that the number of Dubai residents aged 10 to 19 in the country was “unusually low”, suggesting that teenagers may be sent away for education.
The problem was most prevalent in the Asian community, for whom the cost of education has grown “much higher” in Dubai than at home, particularly in secondary schools and universities, the Chamber said.
“With the recent price escalations in the cost of education, more and more families are having no choice but face the reality that they cannot afford the cost of education in Dubai, and they have to send their teenage children home for higher education,” it said in its monthly economic bulletin.
However, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which regulates school fees in Dubai, said that it may be a lack of school places forcing them to return home.
A spokesman for the KHDA said: “We have received no letters or e-mails from schools or parents that the fees structure has forced them to return to their home country.
“We have a good relationship with our stake-holders, and certainly no school owner has come to us with this problem.”
The spokesman did, however, say that the department was “concerned that parents are returning to their home countries because they cannot find school places for their children in certain stages and in certain curriculum schools”.
Secondary school fees increased by 25.2 per cent this year, the chamber said, while primary school fees rose by 18.7 per cent. University costs increased by 14.2 per cent. The rise was particularly steep considering increases were limited to 2 per cent in primary and secondary schools in 2006.
In 2007, there was an 11.6 per cent average increase for primary schools, and 15.4 per cent for secondary schools.
The chamber estimated that school fees now range from Dh3,000 to Dh58,000.
“The schools here continue to increase the fees and we have no choice but to pay. We can’t register a complaint or any such thing but we just have to pay quietly,” said Shekhar Amin, whose daughter is a grade 4 student studying in a private school in Dubai. “As my daughter grows up, educating her here would become more and more unaffordable.”
“We just plan to educate here for a year longer after which we would return to India. Schools in India are much better and we can get the same education at a much cheaper rate there.”
The KHDA highlighted a shortage of places in English national curriculum schools for ages 16 to 18.
“We are aware that demand is outstripping supply,” the official said. “This is exacerbated by the fact that not all of the new schools scheduled to open this year and next year will do so because of delays in construction, something that is suffered by all sectors in Dubai.”
The KHDA official added that “we work closely with other Government departments to support the growth of education in Dubai and that increased costs does not slow the growth of the school sector. For example we liaised with the Dubai Real Estate Corporation to slowly phase in rent increases that could have affected seven schools dramatically.”
The KHDA assumed responsibility from the Ministry of Education for setting school fees in Dubai last year, allowing institutions to raise their prices by up to 16 per cent.
However any school that did raise tuitions by the maximum was not permitted to raise fees further this year.
Previously, schools were allowed to raise fees by 20 per cent over a three-year period.
An exemption has been granted to embassy, not-for-profit, and internationally accredited schools, which are regulated on a case-by-case basis
According to the KHDA, 43 per cent of schools increased fees in 2007, most by 16 per cent. This year, just 31 per cent of schools were allowed to make further increases, as many reached their quota in 2007.
Abu Dhabi opens second runway
ABU DHABI - OCT 13: Abu Dhabi International Airport opened its second runway yesterday as it prepares for an estimated 20 million passengers a year by 2015.
The Government’s tourism goal called for expanding the airport and Etihad Airways as part of a plan to double the number of visitors to the emirate by 2012, to 2.7 million a year.
The new runway, which cost Dh1 billion (US$270m), is part of a Dh25bn (US$6.8bn) expansion that includes the building of Terminal 3 and a 100-metre air traffic control tower. By the end of 2011, a 550,000 sq/m midfield terminal is scheduled to be complete. It will eventually bring passenger capacity to 40 million a year.
The new runway can now be used for daytime flights and is expected to accommodate night flights in the first quarter of next year.
It gives the airport more flexibility by allowing flights to continue when the other runway is closed for maintenance.
In its final phase, the runway is expected to be certified as a CAT III B runway, making it the most advanced runway in the region, suitable for use when there is very low visibility.
Both runways can accommodate the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, which entered commercial service last year.
The symbolic first flight on the new 4,000m-long, 60m-wide runway took off about 11am yesterday, carrying journalists and VIPs.
Built with the new runway were two fire stations and connecting taxiways with the original runway, which is 2,000m to the south.
The inaugural flight was boarded from Terminal 3, which has been in use since early September, although passengers have been checking in at Terminal 1 and taking coaches to their departure gate. Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac) and Etihad said they would work to increase the number of departures from the terminal before moving to accept arriving planes “within the next few weeks”.
The terminal is an interim measure to help manage the expansion of Etihad Airways, which increased the number of its passengers by 70 per cent last year and in July ordered 100 planes from Boeing and Airbus.
James Hogan, Etihad’s chief executive, has said Terminal 3 – which cost Dh1bn – would be used mostly for the airline’s long-haul flights to Australia, North America and Europe.
By early next year, a duty-free shopping area and a food court are to open in it.
Rudy Vercelli, the chief executive of Adac, said Terminal 3 was being opened in phases to avoid problems like those experienced at London Heathrow, where hundreds of flights were cancelled and thousands of pieces of luggage lost when its Terminal 5 opened in March.
“There are a lot of glitches, many systems, a lot of things that can go wrong because it is a new facility,” Mr Vercelli said. “We endeavour, in order to keep the service quality we have kept for our passengers and our stakeholders, to do this in a phased approach.”
The airport’s year-to-date passenger figure reached 5,962,175 in August, up 34.3 per cent from the comparable period last year.
Adac also operates the airport in Al Ain and at Al Bateen military base – which it plans to turn into an executive airport – and has said it will start a shuttle service to Sir Bani Yas Island in Al Gharbia.
Mr Vercelli also restated yesterday Adac’s desire to acquire and manage foreign airports.
“It is our company’s intent to carry our business abroad,” he said. “There are places where we can actually go and take high-level service, our quality of organisation and our business plan to selected endeavours.”
Dh95m seized in case of ‘non-existent wallet’
ABU DHABI - OCT 12: About Dh95 million (US$26m) in cash has been recovered from defendants involved in the fraud known as the case of the “non-existent wallet”, judicial officials said yesterday.
The money has been deposited in an account set up to reimburse the 8,000 people allegedly defrauded of a total of Dh400m.
The investigation began in April after police and public prosecutors received complaints from investors that they had received little or no return from an individual who had promised 30 to 40 per cent interest a month on their money.
An investigation involving Abu Dhabi Police, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and the Central Bank resulted in 91 arrests. They included AQ Qublan, who was named as the chief suspect, two of his brothers and a number of alleged assistants. All were charged with fraud.
A statement released by police last month estimated the total value of all items seized from the defendants to be Dh260m.
These include 63 vehicles, which will be auctioned this month at the Baniyas Sports Club.
Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division has assigned a team of 12 to verify the claims.
Police believe those arrested had issued more than 5,000 bogus cheques to investors as guarantees. Some victims claimed they received their first monthly dividends, encouraging them to sell property and cars to invest in the scam, as well as urge their friends and family to invest.
AQ Qublan is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.
Tourists pack ‘safari experience’ resort
ABU DHABI - OCT 13: Promoted by word of mouth and little local advertising, the first of Abu Dhabi’s desert island hotels opened fully booked this month.
The 64-room hotel is the centrepiece of Sir Bani Yas Island, a nature reserve and tourist destination that was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the nation.
Significantly smaller than many projects under way in the country, the hotel’s owners believe it has the potential to play a part in conservation tourism in the Middle East.
“The impact that this hotel will have with only 64 rooms is very small, but what it will do for the entire Middle East is give it a conservation project that exists nowhere else,” said William Heinecke, the chief executive of Minor, which owns Anantara resorts, the company operating the Desert Islands Resort and Spa on the island.
“The press that will be generated from that small resort will be every bit as great as what’s coming out of things like Atlantis, or these huge projects.”
Sir Bani Yas, about 170km west of the capital, was created by Sheikh Zayed the year he became president. The late ruler turned the 87sqkm island into a nature reserve and getaway. It was also used as a hunting ground.
More than 30 years later, the island, rich with oryx, giraffe, gazelle and other antelope was granted to the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) to transform it into a holiday destination and nature reserve.
Lee Tabler, the TDIC’s chief executive, said the island was handed over with the view of becoming an “environmentally friendly tourism destination”.
“Just prior to that, there had been occasional hunting trips on a very selective basis. It wasn’t open to the public. It was primarily for friends of the Royal Family and the leadership of this country.”
All that existed on the island prior to the TDIC’s involvement was a concrete building and 17,000 local and exotic animals. In a few months, the building was transformed into a small hotel.
“We inherited the main structure of the building and we tried to make it as environmentally friendly as we could in the circumstance,” Mr Tabler said.
The animal population is being reduced to 4,000 by exporting some to their natural habitats, or by culling.
Within the next month, the TDIC will start designing a lodge that should be open by about 2010. About three tented resorts, each capable of housing up to 10 people, will open next year.
“Many people are curious about the Middle East. People who might otherwise have gone on safari to East Central Africa can visit the desert islands for a safari experience – perhaps even businessmen who want to bring their family. It’s a shorter trip,” said Mr Tabler.
The hotel was not rethinking any of its plans because of the global financial crisis, he added.
“We have a long-term strategy. We’re not a short-term commercial developer. The current market conditions affect us very little.”
The TDIC is funded through the Abu Dhabi Tourism Association, an arm of the Abu Dhabi Government. As such, its mandate is to develop destinations, rather than to make a profit.
While the hotel may eventually become marginally profitable, the cost of running a nature reserve means Sir Bani Yas “will never make a profit”, he said.
However, the TDIC hopes the resort will eventually earn international renown and provide jobs for the residents of the rural communities such as Delma Island and Al Ruwais.
The TDIC has also bought two nine-seat air planes that will fly guests directly to the resort. Flights will begin on Oct 15.