GEMS Education, the United Arab Emirates’ largest for-profit school chain, has reportedly threatened to remove students from its distance learning programme if tuition fees are not paid by 21 April.

Arabian Business has reported that Dubai-based GEMS said in an email to parents that “this is a final reminder to settle your child’s school fees. If payment has not been received by 12 PM on Tuesday, 21st April 2020, then we have no choice but to remove your child from access to our remote learning programme from Wednesday, April 22.”

The terse email comes after a petition was signed by more than 15,000 parents with children enrolled at GEMS schools, who called for a minimum 30% reduction to third-term fees because the group’s e-learning offering, rolled out in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is “unorganised and inadequate”. Authorities in the UAE ordered schools to close and said that the remainder of the academic year’s tuition must be carried out online.

GEMS responded to the petition by announcing that discounts would be given to some parents – but only once they had handed over documents evidencing that their finances have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to GEMS, more than 20,000 students’ fees will be covered by its relief package, which in some cases will provide discounts of 50% or more. 

But parents have not taken kindly to GEMS’ “threatening” email.

In a letter to Arabian Business, parents said they were “appalled” at the way they have been treated by the schooling giant, which is part-owned by CVC Capital Partners, Europe’s largest private equity group.

“The email…is less of a reminder and more of a legal notice or a threat of sorts,” the letter stated. “We cannot be dealt with this way for asking what we deserve. We, at this point, are not caving in and we are only getting stronger in fighting for what we genuinely need.”

When contacted by Arabian Business, a GEMS spokesperson reportedly said that “the remote learning plans in place across GEMS Education schools ensure continuity of education during the current global pandemic, and students are required to attend their classes as they would under normal circumstances.

“Equally, in line with government regulations, to ensure students benefit from remote learning and progress to the next year or grade at the end of this academic year, tuition fees need to be paid in full.

“For anyone who has yet to settle the current term’s tuition, we therefore kindly ask that they do so as soon as possible.”

Founded in 1959 by Sunny Varkey, GEMS operates more than 70 schools worldwide. It was valued at between $4 billion and $5 billion when CVC Capital Partners took a 30% stake in the group for $1 billion last year.