A learning curve for Dubai schools

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A learning curve for Dubai schools
Demand in the education sector is set to increase as Dubai's population is projected to more than double, from 2.5 million this year to 5.2 million by 2030. - Photo used for illustrative purpose only

dubai - Improvements in quality of private education can help drive revenue streams

By Oliver Cornock

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Published: Mon 27 Jun 2016, 6:26 PM

Last updated: Tue 28 Jun 2016, 1:27 AM

Rising standards and increasing competition are driving improvements in Dubai's private education system while also generating stronger revenue streams and laying firmer foundations for sector growth.

A May report by the Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) - the agency tasked with overseeing private schools and universities - has shown marked improvements in many of Dubai's private schools, with nearly 20 per cent of institutions improving their ratings compared to the results of the previous inspection cycle.

Making the grade
In May, DSIB published its latest school inspection report, revealing that an increasing number of students were attending better quality private institutions.

Of the 253,319 students surveyed across 149 private schools, 61 per cent of students were attending schools offering a "good or better" education, compared to just 30 per cent in the 2008-09 academic year and 53 per cent in the 2014-15 academic year. Another 35 per cent of students were attending "acceptable" schools, taking the share of students attending a school receiving at least a passing mark to 96 per cent. The remaining four per cent of surveyed students were attending schools with a "weak" education, yet none of the facilities ranked as "very weak", a newly included category.

Of the schools covered in the survey, 28 saw their ratings improve, with just five institutions receiving lower ratings. Schools with better DSIB ratings are able to raise their tuition fees by higher amounts, in accordance with a fee framework, which provides schools a monetary incentive for enhancing school performance. Schools ranked "outstanding", for example, are able to increase fees by 6.42 per cent for the next academic year - double the Education Cost Index of 3.21 per cent.

Improvements in ratings can also have a direct bearing on enrolment and revenue streams, making for a more developed and competitive education sector, according to Abdulla Al Karam, chairman of the board of directors and director-general of KHDA.

"Private education in Dubai has become increasingly robust and mature as consumers are becoming more aware of the numerous choices," he told OBG. "Investors are encouraged to innovate with new types of schools and niche offerings."

"We expect to see schools compete to improve their quality and infrastructure and focus more on offering value for money in an increasingly competitive marketplace," he added.

Growth potential
Dino Varkey, managing director and board member at Gems Education, a K-12 international education provider, also points to the private sector's ability to meet the needs of a growing skills gap.

"More collaboration between the primary, secondary and tertiary education levels is required to meet today's skills gap. The private sector is better positioned to innovate and develop models to address this issue, particularly through curriculum development and increased technology use." While the UAE's public education system is free to nationals, 58 per cent of Emirati students attend private schools, further deepening the client pool for the sector.

Demand in the education sector at all grades is set to increase as Dubai's population is projected to more than double, from 2.5 million this year to 5.2 million by 2030. The pace at which new schools in Dubai are coming online is also gaining momentum, with at least 16 institutions set to open their doors for the 2016-17 academic year.

According to KHDA projections, the schools opening next academic year in Dubai will offer 63,000 new spaces when at full capacity, which is well on the way to reaching KDHA's goal of 360,000 seats by 2020.

Revenue from Dubai's private education system accounts for 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), with earnings from tuition fees increasing from Dh5.35 billion ($1.5bn) in the 2014/15 academic year to Dh6.1 billion ($1.7bn) this year.  One area for potential growth and revenue expansion in the medium to long term is the middle-income market, according to Sanjay Mankani, managing director of Fortes Education, a Dubai-based education provider.

"Focusing on the middle-income market will be a significant opportunity in coming years as this segment of the population increases," Mankani told OBG. "We also expect significant growth in the education sector across the entire region, knowing that the relevant authorities recognise it as a long-term investment for the nation."

With the projected doubling of Dubai's population by 2030, growth in the education sector at all levels looks set to be sustainable, with those schools able to maintain or improve their ratings better placed to take advantage of demand for educational services.
Due to an increasingly competitive marketplace of both local and international private sector actors, those entities able to innovate and diversify their education offerings will be able to capitalise on growth opportunities in the sector.

The writer is managing editor for the Middle East at Oxford Business Group. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policies.

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