Demand for places at private schools is so high that up to 10 children are competing for each place, making essential expatriate workers reluctant to move to the Emirates with their families. Pressure on school accommodation has increased heavily in recent years as the population has grown. And while private schools have plans for thousands of extra places, the shortage remains a major issue for parents trying to secure admission for their children in the current and coming academic years.
"There is a big shortage of places out there," said Tim Jones, a shopping centre manager who has two children and lives in Dubai. "If people arrive [in the UAE] partway through the school year, it can be very, very difficult. The last thing you want is the kids not having a place at the school of your choice." Finding a place is most difficult at primary level, but the crisis has spread to secondary schools because families are staying longer in the country and fewer spaces are becoming available in the later years.
Many private schools filled their quota of vacancies for the new academic year, which starts in September, several months ago. Schools adopting American, British, Indian and French curriculums say they are among those that are heavily oversubscribed. Our Own English High School in Dubai received about 3,000 applications for the 300 places available at its kindergarten once siblings of current pupils had been accommodated. Leena Vijayan, a registrar at the school, said most international schools were "much in demand".
At the Dubai American Academy, a Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) school, there are about eight applications for each vacancy. Aldar Properties has announced plans to build 20 new schools in Abu Dhabi, while GEMS aims to add tens of thousands of extra school places in the next few years. But new schools in Abu Dhabi are filling as soon as they open their doors. The Pearl Primary School, the first of Aldar's schools, has almost reached its 552-place capacity. Demand for places was so high that Aldar has hired additional teachers for next year.
A second Pearl school, which is not yet open, was also filling up fast, said John Curley, the managing director of Aldar Academies. Jim Harvey, the head of educational development at Aldar Academies, said the number of enrolments had "exceeded all estimates" and even the 40 extra teachers the organisation had recruited for the next academic year would be insufficient. "We are back in the market place to recruit a further 10 teachers," he said.