Fierce competition between schools puts power of choice in parents’ hands, education forum delegates hear
With 283 international schools, Dubai has retained its position as the city with the most such schools in the world. Abu Dhabi comes in third place globally, with 154 such schools.
Dubai: Around 43 per cent of UAE parents are actively looking at options for moving their child to another school, an education conference heard on Tuesday in Dubai.
The power of choice comes amid fierce competition between schools, fuelled by a record rate of new schools opening up, experts told the International and Private School Education Forum Middle East 2017 (IPSEF).
The figure was revealed by James Mullan, co-founder of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, which had asked 600 parents in the UAE if they were considering changing schools. Mullan was part of an IPSEF panel on school fees on Tuesday, the opening day of the two-day conference.
Such a high response would have been unthinkable in the past, when parents struggled with long school admission waiting lists and paid whatever fees schools demanded. But tighter regulation and closer competition have empowered parents to become selective in scouting schools, Mullan told Gulf News on the sidelines of IPSEF.
In Dubai, around 10 new private schools opened this year, following a record 15 new schools last year. According to new data shared at IPSEF, Dubai has retained its position as the city with the most international schools in the world, with 283 such schools, says The International Schools Consultancy (ISC). Abu Dhabi comes in third place globally, with 154 schools, according to ISC.
In Abu Dhabi, seven new schools opened this year. Overall, the UAE has 601 international schools — second only to China, which has 638.
Coupled with competition, a “slower market” has also put downward pressure on school fees, said IPSEF panellist Tariq Shaikh, partner at RHT Partners, a UAE-based investment management firm. Last month, Gulf News reported that 22 private schools, out of the eligible 159 in Dubai, chose not to increase fees this academic year. Schools also introduced a raft of fee discounts to attract and retain parents’ loyalty.
Shaikh said the “maturing school market” here could also see investors willing to accept slim profit margins, as opposed to “very healthy double digits”, besides “Mergers and Acquisitions” between schools seeking to consolidate costs.
Annual private school fees vary greatly in Dubai, from under Dh5,000 to over Dh100,000. In the UAE, the average international school fee per year is around Dh28,200 ($7,747), according to ISC Research 2017.
IPSEF panellist David Hicks, principal of Emirates International School, Jumeirah, said parents today demand “value for money allied with a track record in Dubai” from schools. He said the image of a “premium” franchise of a pricey overseas school does not guarantee survival in today’s tight school market.
“I worry about the sustainability of some high-end schools in this market, schools charging Dh130,000 a year [for example]. Success overseas does not mean success in Dubai. Schools have to redefine themselves or realign their costs in terms of lower price ranges. We have schools here on a lower budget that serve the population really well and we need to celebrate that,” Hicks added.
Tuesday morning’s panel was led by Ros Marshall, CEO of Taaleem, one of the UAE’s biggest private education providers. She said school fees “are not the only equation” with parents when selecting schools, adding that parents increasingly expect schools to prioritise the well-being of their children.
Student well-being was underlined in the IPSEF keynote address by Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director-general of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority. After speaking about the changing supply-demand equation in Dubai schools, as well as technological changes in the classroom, Dr Al Karam said, “We talk about change, but one thing shouldn’t change, and that is our humanity … We have to continue to provide skills in empathy, teach harmony — harmony with ourselves, with mother nature — how to give generously to others.”
Rise and rise of UAE schools
Almost 605,000 students attend 601 international schools in UAE — the highest number of international enrolment in any country; the second highest concentration of international schools in the world (ISC Research 2017)
10 new private schools opened this year in Dubai, following a record 15 new ones last year (KHDA data)
43 per cent of UAE parents are actively looking at options in changing their child’s school (WhichSchoolAdvisor.com)
In the UAE, the average international school fees per year is $7,747 — around Dh28,200 (ISC Research 2017)
16 per cent of expat parents in the UAE have their children’s school fees sponsored (WhichSchoolAdvisor.com)
When UAE parents choose a school, they mostly look for “a happy school” (26 per cent), followed by qualification of teachers (24 per cent) — WhichSchoolAdvisor.com