DUBAI // Education regulators are anticipating hundreds of thousands of new students to be enrolled in private schools by 2020.
With the number of private school students in the GCC expected to triple in the next seven years, regulators from Abu Dhabi and Dubai have cited the need for hundreds of new schools to accommodate the increase.
“We currently have 200,000 students in 184 private schools, teaching 14 different curriculums across Abu Dhabi,” said Tareq Zeyad Al Ameri, the manager of promotion and business development at the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
“By 2020 the number of students in private schools are expected to reach 280,000, which means an annual growth of 5 per cent.”
Mr Al Ameri also said the council plans to offer 133,000 seats and about 60 to 70 new schools.
The private education sector in Abu Dhabi caters to more than 60 per cent of the total student population in the emirate – a quarter of whom are Emirati – and the sector is growing.
“Private education has witnessed the most growth with students, so there are investment opportunities in private education across Abu Dhabi,” Mr Al Ameri said. “We are expecting 10 schools to open next year and 12 schools the following year.”
He was speaking at the second Education Investment Mena Summit, which kicked off yesterday in Dubai.
Dubai has also experienced growth, with a 7 per cent annual increase in student enrolments in private schools. If the trend continues, the number of students will jump from 225,000 to 360,000 by 2020.
“This is a 60 per cent increase from the existing student population,” said Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director general at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority. “We will need 110 new schools by 2020 and it is one of the highest growth areas, followed by higher education.”
The UAE’s private education market is about the same size as India’s and China’s combined.
“That’s just a sense of the scale of what we’re dealing with here,” said Ralph Tabberer, the chief executive of the UK management and consulting services company Better Broader Deeper Education.
“The current number of students in private education in the GCC is predicted to triple by 2020. Everyone is talking about private education now. It’s becoming the norm and the rest of the world is looking at the region with great interest.”
He said the most important factor would be to maintain a high quality of education in the next few years.
“As the markets grow, they become very sensitive with price,” Mr Tabberer said. “Most surveys show people will pay more so it won’t be determined by price but by quality.”
Dr Al Karam said transparency was a driving force.
“If you focus on what matters the most to this industry, which is transparency provided to the public and quality of education, you will win,” he said.
“Today we have a much healthier situation because we kept our eye on the quality and transparency over the past five years – it caused school closures but more than 30 schools opened, including nine last year. Quality is what we’ll continue to increase in the marketplace and there’s a lot of potential and growth in Dubai.”
Abu Dhabi also has a part to play.
“We’re trying to phase out villa schools, which is a challenge,” said Mr Al Ameri. “There were 72 schools and now we’re left with 20.”
He said new private schools were setting high standards in the education system.
“They play a key role in education and this trend is encouraging because it will enhance the quality of private education,” he said.
Western-branded higher education institutions in the country are growing by 15 per cent a year, with the UAE hosting 37 international branch campuses – the highest number in the world.