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Amid complaints from parents about rising tuition costs, Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) has hired international consulting company PWC to review private school requests for fee increases.

Media reports about the move have been circulating for months, but the ministry previously denied the action:

However, in a short statement to Doha News yesterday, the council said: “We confirm that the SEC contracted PWC to review private school fees for the academic year 2014/2015.”

PWC did not respond to requests for a comment.

MES Indian School/Facebook

Most expat children in Qatar attend private schools and tuition costs in the sector vary significantly, from around QR10,000 a year at secondary level to nearly QR70,000 annually, depending on the school.

Many parents complain about fee uplifts every year. Combined with a chronic shortage of school places, some residents say they are being held to ransom by schools, and have little choice but to pay up.

But as the cost of living continues to rise, schools contend that they are grappling with ongoing financial pressure, particularly for staff salaries and housing, and have no option but to increase their fees.

For example, MES Indian School principal A.P Sadidharan told Doha News in May that the school had applied to raise its fees for the first time in four years.

“Prices are going up for everything, even petrol. We have no other way except to increase the fees,” he said.

New protocol

All private schools in Qatar are required to apply to the SEC for approval before they can raise their fees. Following complaints last year after many applications were rejected, the council introduced a new protocol for fee appraisals.

In May, it announced a new five-point plan and ratings system for all private schools that it said would create a “scientific and transparent system” for setting school fees.

According to the director of the SEC’s Private Schools Office, Hamad Mohammed Al Ghali, school applications would now be judged according to the following criteria:

  • The current level of tuition fees and surcharges, previous fees and the number of times a school was granted permission to increase fees in recent years;
  • Parents and pupils’ assessments of their teachers;
  • The financial situation of the school;
  • How well schools have filled out the SEC fee increase application form; and
  • The school’s accreditation status.

Schools are also being grouped into bands of those with similar facilities and services in order to more fairly compare their fees with their peers.

This new system is being led by PWC, an SEC source told Qatar Tribune, adding that “the agency, not the SEC” had worked out the accepted percentage of fee increases for schools for this academic year based on the school’s academic achievements and on the services it provides.

Al Ghali said earlier this year that the council only accepted some 30 percent of school requests for fee hike, as the rest failed to show compelling evidence that they are incurring losses or upgrading their facilities. Most fee increases were limited to 4 percent.

Schools are able to lodge an appeal to the SEC’s initial decision, but have to give new evidence to support their appeal. It is not known how many have successfully achieved this.

Teachers’ salaries

One of the biggest expenses faced by schools is the cost of teachers’ salaries. While some teachers are well-paid, others, particularly in Indian schools, say they receive salaries of only QR2,500 a month.

Birla Public School principal A.K Shrivastava said he had tried to give his teachers a small salary increase of QR300 this year, but with caps on fee increases, was struggling to balance his books.

Staff salaries would be one of the issues examined by the SEC, according to the Qatar Tribune’s source, who said there were plans to increase some teacher’s salaries by up to 20 percent, and these raises would be connected to the approved school fee increases.

Thoughts?

manpower

Kyle McDonald/Flickr

Qatar is struggling to recruit and retain skilled experts who can help deliver on its many planned infrastructure projects over the next several years, according to a new report by international consulting and accounting firm PwC.

The ensuing “capacity crunch,” which is also being experienced in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, will make it difficult for projects to be delivered on time unless radical changes are made to management styles.

In the second edition of the Building Beyond Ambition: Middle East Capital Projects & Infrastructure Survey for June 2014, PwC states:

“Organisations delivering complex and iconic projects need to rethink how they govern and oversee project delivery, building delivery units that are agile, empowered and able to make decisions effectively. Failure to do so risks these projects being mired in delays and disputes.”

Key findings

PwC experts surveyed 130 of the region’s most prominent project owners, developers, contractors advisors, and financiers during the month of April to assess their confidence of the year ahead.

While three quarters of business leaders said they expected spending to increase in the coming year as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup and the UAE gets set for the Dubai Expo in 2020, the report found “acute” capacity constraints facing the region’s mega-projects.

Qatar is feverishly working to build and overhaul at least eight stadiums ahead of the  conduct extensive road improvements, create a metro and light-rail system and develop a new city in Lusail, as well as a new port.

A shortage of skilled manpower may be one of the biggest impediments to delivering these projects on time, according to those who spoke to PwC.

More than half (54 percent) of business owners and 43 percent of contractors said this was their top challenge for the coming year:

“While the Middle East may well have the ambition and political imperative to embark on the projects planned in the region, the key limiting factor and potential crisis point is around people.”

Challenges - pwc report

PwC

As the number of big projects increase internationally, the report states that money alone is not the only consideration for expert workers.

Skilled expats who are being sought after also consider the available healthcare and education facilities, and whether they will have a good quality of life if they relocate.

Qatar is cited as one of the top three countries, along with UAE and Bahrain, where the availability of skilled resources is considered the biggest external challenge.

Retention

The findings of this report chime with the latest statistics released last week by Qatar’s Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics (MDPS), which concluded that the proportion of highly-skilled workers in the country declined between 2008 and 2012.

This is despite significant state efforts to expand and develop Qatar’s knowledge-based industries, as it attempts to diversity its economy away from oil and gas.

To avoid a talent vacuum, businesses should focus on trying to retaining their experts by giving them chances to develop and progress in their roles, the report stated.

Another problem is poor decision-making on behalf of those managing the projects. More than half (54 percent) of those questioned cited it as a key reason why developments were falling behind schedule.

Critical of the common client structure in the region, the report describes the status quo as “power-lite,” saying it contributes to delays and makes projects go over-budget:

“A lack of experience at a senior level to oversee large, complex projects and their contractors, also creates problems.

When combined with relatively weak governance structures and a lack of delegation, it leads to delays in decision-making, last-minute variations, poorly defined scope or inadequate designs and a lack of oversight.”

Delayed projects

Fewer projects across the region are being canceled these days, according to the report. But delays are commonplace – some 95 percent of those questioned said they suffered some delay, with nearly half (44 percent) admitting their projects were behind by six or more months.

Excerpt from PwC Capital Projects Survey 2014

PwC

Excerpt from PwC Capital Projects Survey 2014

This is worse than the situation two years ago, where PwC’s first report found that 90 percent had reported delays, with 34 percent saying the delays were six months or more.

At that time, as is now, a lack of funding was cited as one of the reasons, with 45 percent of respondents saying this year that this had led to their project being delayed or deferred.

Projects are also now more likely to run over-budget. Some 71 percent reported an overspend this year, compared to 63 percent in 2012.

Disputes are also more likely to take place, with 62 percent of business leaders admitting they were in dispute last year or expect to be in the coming year.

Here’s the full 2014 report:

Thoughts?