UAE's education sector is poised for a robust growth given the growing demand for private schools, international curriculum and e-learning.
The sector offers ample opportunities for private and public partnerships to take the country's education sector to the next level.
To build a top-class system, the UAE government is investing significantly to improve the quality of education by equipping schools and colleges with smart devices and recruiting internationally accredited teachers.
The Ministry of Education's 10-year development strategy 2010-20 aims at providing students a high-quality curriculum and excellent teaching, improved student life, affordable and high-quality education as well as promoting the national identity and confirming administrative effectiveness.
The government's Dh1 billion Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme will deliver each student a smart tablet and provide superior 4G network connectivity by 2019. The Abu Dhabi Education Council, or ADEC, introduced a 10-year strategic plan to address the challenges in offering P-12 (preparatory to 12 grade) education, according to a latest research by Global Investment House.
"The UAE education sector will continue to be a beneficiary of the young and rising population in the country and the increasing demand for education," said said Nrupaditya Singhdeo, CEO of Al Najah Education Limited.
He said: "According to the United Nations Population Division, 27 per cent of the UAE population is between the ages of 0-24 and in the next 10 years the country is expected to add 1.3 million people to its population. With a large and increasing addressable market and high gross enrolment ratios, the UAE education sector is well positioned for growth. Furthermore, the increasing emphasis of the UAE government on building a knowledge based economy and the allocation of over 20 per cent of its budgeted expenditure towards education bodes well for the growth of the sector. We believe the K-12 (American curriculum) schools market in the UAE have a market size of $ 3.5 billion with approximately 900,000 student enrolments between private and public schools. In our view, the market will grow at an average CAGR (compound aggregate growth rate) of five-six per cent with private education growing faster than public driven by factors described above," said Singhdeo.
The total number of students in the GCC education sector is projected to reach 15 million in 2020, registering a CAGR of 3.6 per cent from an estimated 12.6 million in 2015.
In 2014-2015, the UAE had more than 1,200 schools (542 private) and over 85 higher education institutions (largely private). More than 1.1 million students pursued education in the UAE in 2014, having increased at an annualised rate of 6.2 per cent from 2009. An expanding base of school and college age population and increase in the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) across the education segments are likely to drive the growth. The number of students at private schools is projected to grow at a 5.1 per cent CAGR from 2015. Enrolments at public schools are anticipated to increase at an annual average of 2.6 per cent, according to Alpen Capital.
"The education sector in the region is growing at a rapid pace and offers attractive opportunities for private investors. The sector has witnessed several merger and acquisition transactions in the last three years owing to the increasing demand for quality education. The investor friendly policies adopted by the GCC governments are also helping the trend towards increased private sector participation. We believe that the existing momentum in the M&A space of the education sector in the region is likely to continue fuelled by factors such as favourable demographics, high disposable income and growing awareness for quality education," said Mahboob Murshed, managing director, Alpen Capital.
The global report further states that the UAE and Qatar are the emerging as the hubs for higher education, with the presence of prominent international universities and educational institutions. Dubai has become a major education destination as it accommodates several overseas students, a large number of which are from the Arab region. The city's state-of-the-art infrastructure, easy visa policies, favourable investment climate and strategic location have drawn reputed foreign education providers. Students are also drawn to the country due to hassle-free visa availability and presence of reputed international colleges and universities.
"The education sector in the UAE is going through a rapid and significant change. The growing number of schools and seats in Dubai is keeping up with the pace of the growing population, reducing the demand supply gap. With the opening of new schools this year, for the first time we will see a situation of more seats than students. Parents now have a choice, like never before and are asking questions based on the quality, facilities, teacher turnover ratio and extracurricular activities," said Mohan Valrani, chairman, The Arcadia Preparatory School, UAE.
The UAE is laying special emphasis on the e-learning market, which is evident from the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme which is aimed at shaping the new learning environment in schools. The Middle East's e-learning market is expected to expand at an annual rate of 8.2 per cent to $560.7 million over 2014-16. This bodes well for regional and global education suppliers. The GCC region has a number of major projects in the pipeline. Government investments along with private sector support, have led to a rise of projects in the region's education sector. Saudi Arabia accounts for the highest number of projects, followed by Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait.
In addition, a number of new schools and colleges are being constructed across the region as a part of the governments strategic plans to increase student capacity. According to the director-general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dr Abdullah Al Karam, around 15-20 new private schools will open in Dubai during the academic year 2016-17. Under its Future Schools Project, the ADEC is set to open 100 public schools by 2020.