Parents with children enrolled at United Arab Emirates private schools owned by GEMS and Nord Anglia are petitioning to have their tuition fees reduced as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced schooling online, cutting off access to amenities and additional services.

A petition from “parents of GEMS Education schools” to the firm’s management calling for “a minimum 30% fees reduction” has obtained more than 13,000 signatures since 3 April, piling pressure on the UAE’s largest for-profit school chain to cut tuition fees while schooling is delivered through online channels for the remainder of the academic year.

“We feel that it is unjustified that GEMS is demanding a full fee payment for the third term’s 'Distance Learning Program',” the petition reads.

“Parents have to put in more than five-to-seven hours a day, assisting children to complete the daily assigned lessons, provide resources, stationary, technology, not to mention the added mental strain and pressure of working from home simultaneously.

“In addition to this, the children are not attending school for the entire semester, neither using the premises, utilities, facilities nor all extra-circular activities, which are now closed for the entire semester thus reducing the school’s costs.

“As prominent education providers in the UAE, we expect GEMS to lead the way by example and therefore, we collectively appeal to GEMS Education for a minimum 30% fees reduction for the third term 'E-Learning Program'. For those parents that have already paid, we request their payments to be adjusted against the next upcoming semester.”

GEMS is part-owned by Europe's largest private equity firm, CVC Capital Partners. 

Another petition asking Andrew Fitzmaurice, chief executive of international schooling giant Nord Anglia, which is also private equity-owned, to reduce his group’s tuition fees by “no less” than 50% has been signed nearly 450 times in the past 24 hours.

“As a for-profit organisation you are within your rights to make profits obviously but charging full fees to maximise profits for an inferior/ less valuable service is an act of bad faith and in these times is distasteful,” the petition reads.

Written by a parent with clear corporate and financial nous, the petition continues: “In conclusion, our humble analysis suggests that up to a 30% reduction in T3 [term three] fees will be 'net neutral' to the school’s EBITDA margin.

“On an annualized basis, a 30% reduction in T3 is a mere 10% reduction in annual school fees which is a token amount in the prevailing circumstances.”

The petitions addressed to GEMS and Nord Anglia have prompted parents with children at other smaller fee-charging schools to also take a stand.

This week, petitions calling for fee reductions at schools including King Schools, NIBRAS International, Dubai Scholars, LFJM School, Emirates International School and Smart Vision School have also gained hundreds of signatures.

The flurry of petitions comes just days after this publication reported that private schools across the UAE had refused to issue refunds and reimbursements to parents, despite being “strongly recommended” by the country’s education watchdog to do so.

Parents with children enrolled at independent schools across the UAE feel they should be entitled to discounted fees for the upcoming third term because term two was cut short by coronavirus-induced school closures.

They are now also having to cover childcare costs or look after children themselves as the government has ordered pupils to stay home and take online classes for the rest of the academic year– joining a chorus of countries worldwide that have adopted similar measures to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Parents in the UAE are now wondering why they should foot the bill for transportation, swimming pools, gyms, libraries and other amenities that their children no longer have access to, at a time when many families are facing salary cuts or even redundancies as global economies edge towards recession.