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Education: The real cost of tuition

The latest UAE figures show it can cost more than Dh1.1 million to support a child through school and university. Here’s how to plan 

The earlier parents start to save for education, the less money they will need to put aside as it will have more time to accumulate any investment growth.

Most parents want to provide the best for their children and would agree that funding their education is a key financial priority. Planning for this expenditure is relevant to expats around the world, but this is especially the case in the UAE, where expat parents usually need to contribute to their children’s education and where the cost can reach more than Dh1.1 million per child.

The latest figures, based on sending a child to study in a UK- or US-curriculum school in the UAE, followed by university in the UK, demonstrate the huge cost that most parents will have to consider at some point.

With the cost of living rising all the time, these costs are likely to be significantly higher by the time the child reaches university age.

Based on the latest industry figures from edarabia.com, we estimate that sending a child to a UK- or US-curriculum school up to university age can cost Dh558,352 ($152,036) in school fees alone.

The earlier parents start to save for education, the less money they will need to put aside as it will have more time to accumulate any investment growth.

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When it comes to supporting them through university, the figures can become even more eye watering, depending on which country they choose to study in.

In the US, for example, industry figures estimate the total cost for a four-year course can be up to Dh689,695 ($187,800) including university fees, room and board, transport and other living expenses.

If the child studies in the UK, then costs may be cheaper at about Dh345,729 ($94,140) for a three-year course, including fees, rent, utilities and other living expenses. But if it’s a top university, then costs could rise significantly.

Steps parents should take

Calculate expected costs: It’s not just the school fees, but the added extras that can accumulate over time and come as a surprise to parents. Old Mutual International has an online education calculator to help parents wanting to understand the expected costs involved. 

Start planning early: The earlier parents start to save for education, the less money they will need to put aside as it will have more time to accumulate any investment growth.

Don’t rely solely on income: It is a risky strategy to rely on your current job and salary to meet the cost of education. The economy, jobs and business priorities are all subject to change, and if you face a period of unemployment it will be extremely unsettling for your children if they need to temporarily leave their school.

Consider conflicting priorities: The various potential risks should be taken into account when planning. For example, what if an unexpected situation arises where there are competing priorities, such as care for an elderly relative?  

Consider a trust: Many parents may want the security of ring-fencing their savings to ensure future educational needs are safeguarded. In such cases, a trust arrangement may be beneficial, and will help ensure the child’s future is provided for in the event of something happening to one or both parents. 

Seek professional advice: Many investors feel comfortable setting up their own financial plan and selecting their own investments, but this is unlikely to offer the same level of robust planning and investment expertise a professional financial adviser and investment manager can offer. 

It is important to remember that the buying power of any lump sum will be eroded by inflation and that an investment portfolio should be built with the aim of outgrowing inflation.

A key point in any wealth preservation strategy is therefore to be positioned for the long term, and so ride the dips in the market cycle and capture returns during periods of market gain. 

Investing for three or more years allows investors to benefit from higher risk investments that are more likely to bring in higher returns.

In addition, a more flexible, longer-term strategy will allow the investment manager to avoid a forced sale of assets in adverse market conditions. 

The writer is head of proposition, Middle East and Africa, at Old Mutual International 

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