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90% of additional 175,000 school seats to come from private sector

Enrolment increases and continued quality improvement expected in K-12 although UAE is still behind OECD averages and its own National Agenda Target in international assessment results

The private school sector in the UAE is expected to continue to drive the growth of the Emirates’ education market to 2020.

Over 175,000 additional seats are predicted to be required in the K-12 segment in the next four years, and 90% of this will come from private school enrolees.

Almost all of the Emirates, led by Dubai, are witnessing growth in private K-12 enrolment, with the exception of Fujairah. However, as more quality schools are opening, efforts to attract and retain students will become a more pressing issue for school operators.

The data was released through a study published by PwC Middle East, Understanding the GCC Education Sector, Country Profile: UAE, ahead of the largest gathering of education stakeholders in the Middle East, Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS) Dubai 2017, which will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre on March 14-16.

“The study presents a positive outlook for the education market in the UAE, and perceptively presents not just opportunities but also challenges for those involved in shaping the future of education in the country. Coming from an esteemed organization such as PwC, this will hopefully bring to light needed action steps for stakeholders to ensure the continued success of the UAE education sector,” said Matt Thompson, Project Director, F&E Education, organisers of GESS Dubai 2017.

Other significant findings of the report show that based on historic demographic trends, Dubai is forecast to require 74,500 additional seats in 50 new private schools by 2020, while 62,000 additional seats in 52 new private schools in the same period will be needed in Abu Dhabi.

“Making sense of a rapidly evolving education market in the Gulf region is challenging given the availability of information. In our emerging series of reports – Understanding the GCC Education Sector – we profile each of the six countries in the GCC, to contribute to a better appreciation of the trends and issues being faced by decision makers in both the private and public sectors. At GESS Dubai, our Dubai based team of education experts hopes to engage a broad audience of education stakeholders in the debate that we hope will ultimately prove useful for all those involved in shaping the future of education in this part of the world,” said Roland Hancock, PwC Middle East Education Director.

Sally Jeffery, PwC Middle East Education & Skills Partner and PwC Global Education Sector Leader points out that “The public education systems in the GCC are using national curricula, which have a lot of reform to go through still. They are not as mature as international curricula and content and the pedagogy is very different. They are putting a lot of effort into modernising their curricula but that process is difficult to do it quickly. In the private sector there are a couple of areas that are underserved. Pre-school is growing at twice the rate of K-12 and that demand can be met by smaller sized facilities, and regulation – particularly pricing – is less controlled than in K-12, although this may be changing as the government focuses more on early learning. There are also gaps in higher education, which need development funding, particularly for STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects, which are much needed, but expensive to operate. Leading STEM universities world-wide depend heavily on their endowment funds.”

The report also notes that given the increasing number and quality of schools, parents have a better selection of schools in which to enrol their children. This choice puts pressure on those not ranked by government authorities as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ to improve their offerings in order to attract students. It is expected that cost will play a critical role in changing the supply-demand dynamic, with calls for Dubai to have more quality schools below the average annual tuition of AED40,000.

More insights from the report include that in Dubai, UK and Indian curriculum schools continue to dominate but that IB curriculum schools are becoming an increasingly popular option among parents. Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, Indian and American curriculum schools are driving growth but British curriculum schools remain popular choices with parents considering admission to lower cost European higher education institutes.

As for the Pre-K education segment, formal education is being encouraged by the UAE government in this sector, potentially paving the way for a significant increase in the number of providers targeting this age group. For example, if UAE were to reach the OECD average participation rate of 33% for 0-2 year olds by 2020, PwC estimates that over 81,500 additional seats will be required.

Insights from over 130 education experts and speakers who will come to share their expertise at than more than 200 workshops, panel discussions and sessions will take place at the CPD-accredited conference at GESS Dubai.

This year, GESS Dubai continues to put the spotlight on educational best practice by highlighting some of the more innovative programmes being implemented at schools across the region. Some of the participating schools and their noteworthy initiatives include Nibras International School (Single Gender Education), GEMS Nations Academy and Sharjah American International School-Sharjah Campus (Robotics, Programming, IoT and Science Education), JESS Dubai (Bloxels and Video Games), and Victoria International School of Sharjah (Music Education), among others.

Now in its 10th year, GESS Dubai has been the leading platform for education suppliers from around the world to showcase the very latest products and solutions aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning in the Middle East. It has since become a global brand when it introduced local editions in Indonesia and Mexico as well as soon in Turkey, epicentres that are driving the growth of the world’s education market.

GESS Dubai 2017 is free to attend, with education professionals having the added advantage of getting accreditation attending certified sessions and workshops. More information on the exhibition and conference may be obtained at, that is now accepting early registration.

– GESS Dubai Media