Cost of education proving challenging for some expatriate families

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cost of education proving challenging for some expatriate families

Moving to another country is not merely an opportunity to pursue career options abroad. A significant number of immigrants see emigrating overseas as a chance to experience the culture and traditions of a foreign country, raise their family in a new environment and invest in their financial future. While a majority of expatriates choose to live in furnished extended stay apartments or temporary housing upon arriving in a new country, many subsequently end up settling down on a long-term basis, often purchasing property and enrolling their children in local schools. However, according to Arab News, rising school fees have proven surprising to many expatriates.

An uncertain future
The news source reports that non-refundable reservation fees in place at many schools across Saudi Arabia have shocked expatriate families hoping to secure a spot at these competitive institutions. Often referred to as a "seat deposit fee," this charge is necessary for schools to accurately determine the number of children they can expect to enroll for the next academic year. Although such fees are not uncommon throughout Europe, the deposits required at Saudi Arabian schools can be significantly more expensive. In some cases, families must pay almost $800 as a seat deposit fee up to six months in advance of the school year, which has outraged expatriate parents across the kingdom.

Ordinarily, these fees are deducted from the child's tuition bill for the academic year. However, for expatriate families, the uncertainty of whether they will remain in the country for the duration of the academic year can place additional strain on their finances and domestic situation. 

Taco Gerritsen, an expat from the Netherlands whose son attends Jeddah Prep and Grammar School, told the news source he understands the schools' position when it comes to seat deposit fees, but argued that the system is not completely fair, as expatriates are often forced to pay fees for a service they may be unable to take advantage of.

Financial pressure
While purchasing property and getting on the housing ladder are often top priorities for expatriates coming to the Middle East, the financial pressures of doing so can be considerable. Despite the economic stability of Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Oman, the number of individuals who are committed to saving regularly remains comparatively low. According to Arabian Business, a recent survey conducted by global professional services firm Towers Watson suggests that many people living in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are not putting enough money away.

Key findings of the report indicate that approximately half of the GCC's workforce have less than $5,000 in savings, and around one in five workers does not save any money at all. Conversely, expatriates were more likely to save than GCC nationals, and also had a higher probability of having more money put away.

The survey revealed that almost 13 percent of GCC citizens saved on a regular basis, compared to nearly 17 percent of expatriates living in the region. Of the individuals who indicated saving was a priority, purchasing property was the primary motivation for doing so for 25 percent of all respondents. The cost of education was another major reason for expatriates to save, with approximately 21 percent of foreign nationals saving to help pay for their children's education. By comparison, only 7 percent of GCC nationals felt strongly about saving for education.

"A lot of people, unfortunately, in this part of the world, they live paycheck to paycheck, and that needs to change," Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, chief executive officer of National Bonds, told the news source. "We cannot work alone; the government [has] to play a role [and the] education system has to play a role."