Dubai, UAE: Schools face a struggle to survive as operating costs rise, profits drop and global competition for the best teachers becomes even more intense, education experts say.
Another 175,000 school places are expected to be open by 2020, 90 per cent of them in the private sector, exacerbating the problem of oversupply.
“We have already seen ‘Closing’ or ‘For Sale’ signs appear on schools that are relatively new to the UAE,” said Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at education provider Taaleem.
“Existing schools with a good track record and history of positive achievements will already have a solid population, and most will have achieved a critical number of students to make themselves financially viable.
“What the market is watching closely is how new entrants to the UAE are going to fare when the projections in their business plans fall far short of their targets due to the current reality of a surplus of places, especially in the premium school sector.”
A report by the consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers says there is growth in private primary and secondary school enrolments in almost all of the emirates, led by Dubai, and excepting Fujairah.
This will require more investment in good quality teaching.
“The quality of a school never exceeds the quality of teachers,” Mr Pierrepont said.
“The single most important feature in a successful school is a highly talented, motivated and effective staff.
“There is a worldwide shortage of teachers. We compete in a global market to attract and retain the very best of them, with the right experience, a proven track record and specific skills.”
Mr Pierrepont said that competitive rates of pay and benefits must be offered to attract the best talent. Taaleem allocated 70 per cent of its expenditure to staffing.
This rapid growth will challenge sustainability of schools who do not have a long-term plan, Mr Pierrepont said.
Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, agreed that schools would have to pay more to attract good teachers, which would lead to greater costs and higher tuition fees.
“Operators could see a reduction in profit margins, so those expecting big returns may be disappointed,” Dr Ridge said.
There may be instability in the education market if new schools fail, and regulators should make sure new entrants to the market have strong business plans, Dr Ridge said.
She said that oversupply of places could lead to lower fees and overall there will be more choice for parents, but there was an acute shortage of good quality schools below the average annual tuition fee rate of Dh40,000.
Judith Finnemore, of Focal Point Management Consultancy, said cost of living was also a concern.
“If the cost of living rises, the teachers who are not paid so much will not come because remittances will decrease,” Ms Finnemore said.
“Teaching is not such an attractive proposition anywhere any more and you cannot ‘steal’ teachers from western countries indefinitely.”
The PwC report, Understanding the GCC Education Sector, Country Profile: UAE Dubai, will see UK and Indian curriculum schools continue to dominate but International Baccalaureate curriculum schools are becoming increasingly popular.
Formal education in pre-kindergarten is being encouraged by the Government, which could mean a significant increase in the number of providers.
The report said that if the UAE hit the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average participation rate of 33 per cent for children aged up to 2 by 2020, more than 81,500 more seats may be needed.
© The NationalFeb 2017