Private schools a big business

Muaz Shabandri (Reporter) Filed on May 14, 2013

Schools in Dubai are turning into lucrative businesses for private investors as the education sector continued to record growth for the third consecutive year.

According to a new report released by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the average annual fee paid by a student in Dubai is in excess of Dh18,000, noting an increase of six per cent over the last academic year.

Some 153 private schools in Dubai cater to more than 225,000 students — accounting for 88 per cent of all students in the emirate. The number of students in these private schools has doubled over the past decade owing to the improving quality of education.

While parents may have to pay more for educating their children, government authorities have largely regulated school fees to cap education inflation. Following a freeze on fee increase for three years, schools were only allowed to increase their fees last year. Most schools were allowed an increase between three to six per cent, while a few schools were allowed to hike it beyond six per cent.

This year schools have been barred from increasing fees as the education cost index declined. With more places in schools the revenue collected from tuition fees reached an all time high of Dh4.1 billion.

Interestingly, more Emirati students are now opting to study at private schools, showing their preference to study a foreign curriculum. More than half of all Emirati students (56.3 per cent) study at these schools, with the figure growing at an average of 6.2 per cent in the last decade.

Most students in Dubai study at schools charging less than Dh10,000 per year in tuition fees. While older schools in the emirate have to comply with a fee increase framework, newer schools are entering the market with unregulated fee structures. These schools are raising the stakes by charging higher fees and offering more competitive salaries to teachers. Last year, school revenues increased by 16.3 per cent and the figure is expected to continue to grow with the opening of six new schools this year.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Director-General of the KHDA, lauded the positive trends as he said: “The private schools sector in Dubai continues to show robust growth year on year. While student enrolment increased by 7.1 per cent in the last academic year, this rate increased to 8.7 per cent for the 2012-13 academic year.”

The highest growth continues to take place in kindergarten classes as the number of students in KG classes increased by 14.7 per cent in 2012-13.

“It is expected that this high growth in KG students will lead to continued growth of student enrolments in Dubai’s private schools in subsequent years as this cohort of students progresses through schooling.”

UK and Indian curriculum schools are the most sought after choice for students with Indian students making up the single largest student community.

The Private Schools Landscape Report also highlighted the challenge of recruiting good quality teachers from within the UAE. Currently, 14,333 teachers are employed in private schools.

The report noted: “Annual teacher turnover remains significant. Approximately 16 per cent of the teachers that were teaching in a private school last academic year were not teaching at that school the following year.”

A staggering 23.4 per cent of all teachers in Dubai’s private schools were new to their school and more than half of these teachers were recruited from outside the UAE. The student-teacher ratio in Dubai’s private schools is 16 students for every teacher.

Future projections for the sector continue to remain positive with the education authority estimating the student population to double over the next decade.

The three operators with the most number of schools are GEMS Education, Taaleem and Innoventures. GEMS Education has 19 schools, accounting for 25 per cent of Dubai’s total private school student enrolments.

While the positive trends spell out good news for investors in school education, parents may have to shell out more for educating their kids in the future.

Statistics at a glance

Number of private schools in Dubai - 153

Number of students in private schools in Dubai - 225,099

Proportion of all Dubai students attending private schools - 88.7%

Number of teachers in private schools in Dubai - 14,333

Growth of the total private school student population since the previous academic year - 8.7%

Growth of the teacher population since the last academic year - 8.7%

Types of curricula on offer in Dubai’s private schools - 15

Private school market size (based on pupil enrolment multiplied by average tuition fee) - Dh4.1 billion

Increase in revenue from school fees - 16.3%


Muaz Shabandri

Education reporter at Khaleej Times. Dabbles with technology, photography and design in free time. Talk to me food, education and good stories!

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