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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Record 21 schools to open next year in Dubai

But Dubai regulator warns the private schools will have to provide unique services to thrive in the growing market.

DUBAI // A record 21 private schools will open for the next academic year, more than the total for the past two years.

The private school regulator said there was enough demand for the schools, but they would need to find their own niches to succeed.

“If you’re coming with standard school operation, yes, it is a crowded space and you expect that from a mature market or a maturing market,” said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

“But you don’t need to compete in that existing market space. I think you need to create your own new space in that marketplace.

“Our message to the right operator is to look at uniqueness and that is what Dubai needs at this point, because now parents more than any other time have choices.

“We keep adding good seats. I think it’s time to add unique seats and that’s what the parents are looking for.”

Dr Al Karam said schools could specialise in subjects such as sport, arts or languages.

Only 11 private schools opened for the 2014-2015 academic year and only seven this year, he said. Those brought the total to 169, with a capacity for 255,208 pupils.

The KHDA’s target is for 196 private schools by 2017, with a capacity for 341,000 pupils.

A recent survey of parents by the online consultancy WhichSchoolAdvisor found many would look at changing their children’s school if there were more options.

“The not-so-good news is 42 per cent believe the quality of education in the UAE is not up to international standards,” said James Mullan, co-founder of WhichSchoolAdvisor. “So there’s a glut of choice and deficit of happiness.”

Mr Mullan said that to compete in the market, schools had to better engage parents, improve along with international standards and offer services that set them apart.

“They need to identify a point of difference,” he said. “A lot of schools come in and say ‘we’re British curriculum’. Not good enough.

“You need to have a point of difference. You need to stand out.”

Although 25 per cent of the parents surveyed said they were not seeking to change their children’s school, 35 per cent said they might and 40 per cent were undecided.

Arunabh Singh, director of innovation management for Nehru World School, an Indian school operator looking to expand to into the UAE, said he was weighing up whether this was the right time to enter the market, with growing competition and declining oil prices.

“We’ve been doing a lot of due diligence over the past one year in trying to figure that out,” said Mr Singh.

“It takes four to five years for a school to get to capacity, but if in four to five years I’m expecting 100 new schools to come in and the corresponding number of students to occupy those seats are not coming in, then is this the right market to be in?

“That’s one of the answers we want to find before we put our money and time here.”

Schools that opened this academic year include four British curriculum schools, Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, Ranches Primary School, St Mary’s Catholic High School Dubai and Hartland International School. Hartland also offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

There was also the German International School Dubai, the Indian Amled School, and a Swiss-IB school, the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai.

Dr Al Karam made the announcement to private school operators, owners and principals gathered for the annual International and Private Schools Education Forum on Tuesday.

rpennington@thenational.ae

Updated: September 29, 2015 04:00 AM

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