When a couple has their first child, they are probably more focused on furnishing the nursery than planning for their child’s university years. But the cost of education is something new parents must consider, even during the pregnancy months.

1 million dirhams to educate one child!

According to a new study, UAE resident families are looking at an education bill of almost AED 1 million per child from pre-school to graduation. To be more precise, the research from Zurich International Life, Middle East, reveals that parents shell out AED 933,945 – a number that excludes costs such as books, trips and uniforms at school or accommodation, travel and utilities at university. The figure factors in two years of pre-school, six years at primary school, six years at secondary school and three years of higher education at a British university in the UK. This means a typical family with two children will spend a whopping AED 2 million on education.

With a bill like that, parents probably hope that after graduation, their offspring will head straight into the workplace rather than do a master’s or, worse still, a doctorate, requiring another three years of funding.

[Related: Increasing school fees? Here’s what can help]

More alarming is that according to HSBC’s recent report titled ‘The Value of Education Foundations for the Future’, parents in the UAE actually spend the most on their children’s higher education globally.

All of this requires careful financial planning. Because while some UAE employers contribute to education costs at the primary and secondary stages, for others the traditional expat package no longer exists. Instead, professionals are paid a fixed salary and must decide how to distribute their income themselves.

And it seems budgeting for education is not a priority. HSBC’s study highlights that 70% of parents fund their child’s university education from their day-to-day income, rather than a carefully prepared education pot.

So what’s the solution?

Financial discipline. It may sound boring, but saving for your child’s future is key. How you choose to store those savings is up to you.

While dedicated education savings plans are available to expats in the UAE, they can come loaded with high fees. And when it comes to the financial advisers that sell them – they are often more interested in their commission than your child’s future.

Instead it may be wise to choose a fixed deposit account with a high rate of interest that you can keep topping up and rolling over as the years go by.

Alternatively, choose a savings vehicle such as National Bonds or invest into low-risk mutual funds, equities or low-cost exchange traded funds. But make sure to do your research.

[Related: The cost of attending university in the UAE]

For those already struggling with their child’s education costs, there are funding options available.

Most UAE banks offer education finance, either to pay for primary and secondary education or university studies. There are also a number of education-linked credit cards that allow you to pay the fees upfront and then pay the balance off at zero per cent interest over the next 12 months.

For higher education, it’s also worth going down the scholarship route. While UAE Nationals can receive government aid to study overseas for their higher education, expats don’t. They need to apply directly to scholarship schemes.

For those that don’t qualify for a scholarship, it’s important to compare prices at universities in the UAE, your home country and other destinations. According to Zurich, the average cost of tuition in the US is AED 84,428 and the UAE: AED 76,492. Remember, your child may qualify for home status in your home country and therefore secure a better rate than an international student, so shop around.