x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Foreign colleges flocking into region

Foreign schools and universities are pouring into the GCC as the region invests to fill a gap in its education sector.

New York University launched its first classes in the capital this summer. Lee Hoagland / The National
New York University launched its first classes in the capital this summer. Lee Hoagland / The National

Foreign schools and universities are pouring into the GCC as the region invests to fill a gap in its education sector. New York University launched its first classes in Abu Dhabi this summer, and Paris-Sorbonne University entered the capital four years ago. Now Brighton College, a private British school, is recruiting for its first international branch, which is to open next September in Bloom Gardens in Abu Dhabi.

The local campus will be the first of a series of schools to be developed around the world under the Brighton College brand as part of a partnership with Bloom Properties, a developer based in the capital. "Our market research indicates that there is an incredibly big demand for quality education here," said Brendan Law, who was recently appointed as the founding headmaster of the school in the capital.The school is expected to have a capacity of 1,200 pupils.

Sanjay Vig, the managing director at Alpen Capital, sees a big market opportunity for such ventures. "The education industry is poised for unparalleled and consistent growth propelled by increased private-sector participation, rising education needs in the region as well as government initiatives to improve the education system," he said. Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, is building the main campus of New York University Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. It is expected to be completed in 2014 and accommodate 2,500 students. The NYU campus will sit alongside the Abu Dhabi branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, which are also planned for the island. The Dh1.6 billion (US$436 million) Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus, the first phase of which has been completed, is on neighbouring Al Reem island.

"The GCC countries' increasing collaboration with foreign universities and institutes to open branches in the GCC region has significantly impacted efforts to improve higher education," analysts at Alpen Capital wrote in a recent report. "The growing need for quality education and commitment by the governments throws up a number of investment opportunities within this sector. A rising population, coupled with a growing number of expatriates, is expected to drive education demand in the GCC region."

Brighton College, a charitable organisation and not-for-profit school, charges fees of between £18,000 (Dh105,545) and £20,000 a year, but the fees are likely to be significantly lower at its Abu Dhabi branch, at about £9,000 a year, the school says. "Brighton College has had an ambition to take the quality of the school beyond the boundaries of Brighton College in the UK," Mr Law said. "This is about developing into the broader international community."

Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company last year announced a partnership with Dulwich College, an independent school in the UK, to open a campus on Saadiyat Island by 2012. This need for education also goes right up to the executive level. Insead, the European business school, has begun operating from Abu Dhabi with several dedicated academic staff and MBA students rotating through its campus on Muroor Road. Cass Business School, a unit of City University London, offers executive MBAs through its branch in the Dubai International Financial Centre. Now HEC Paris, a European business school, has signed an agreement with Qatar Foundation to set up a base in Doha.

"Our vision is that where economies are growing quickly, where there is long-term potential for economic growth and where economies play a major role in the world economy, those are places where typically there is most need for executive development and executive training," said Joshua Kobb, the director of international development and strategic partnerships at HEC Paris. "We see the GCC as a place we need to be. We accompany businesses in their growth and we help them face some of the challenges they would naturally face in a high-growth market. Qatar Foundation is supporting this initiative as part of their move to develop the knowledge economy, so they're investing very heavily in projects like this."

Mr Kobb said the initiative had also received financial support from the French company Total, explaining that the oil-and-gas corporation recognised the importance of such education for the industries in the region. HEC Paris's executive MBA programme in Doha would cost about $74,000 for about a year and a half, part-time, Mr Kobb said. "The objective of Qatar Foundation is to build what is commonly called the knowledge economy - they say that their economy needs to diversify," Mr Kobb said. "They need to diversify away from gas sources, and they say for that to happen they need to change the knowledge structure within Qatar. They need to encourage certain behaviour, they need to build up certain management skills, they need to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, risk-taking. So they see education as playing a role in this economic diversification and the long-term economic success of Qatar."

Still, Alpen Capital highlights the challenges facing the sector in the region. "Currently, the private-sector participation is low in the education sector. The quality of education still lags behind developed economies, resulting in many students opting to go overseas for higher education. Also, the education sector is one of the capital-intensive industries with high turnaround time, which acts as a barrier for many investors looking for a quick turnaround."

rbundhun@thenational.ae