Opportunities for UK education and investment in the Middle East

UK schools, universities and further education providers fulfil a thirst for knowledge and international ambition in the Middle East

The audience of the UK Middle East Education Summit watches a panel discussion
A prestigious audience of representatives from governments, schools, higher and further education and educational support providers and investors met earlier in the summer at the RSA in London. Fiona Murchie was there.The UK – Middle East Education Summit was held in London to offer educational providers insights into new opportunities and ways of working in the Middle East.UK Trade Ambassador, Graham Stuart, Minister for Investment, Department for International Trade in his opening keynote, posed the question, “In the eyes of young people across the globe what exactly is so special about Britain?”He went on to say, “...we obviously have our world class culture, sport and entertainment industries – from Premier League football, to hit TV shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock.“We have our plethora of Hollywood movie stars and globally renowned musicians. We have our great literature and our game-changing inventors and innovators.“But delving a little deeper into the results of a remarkable global attitudes survey carried out on behalf of the British Council in 2017, there is something young respondents admired about Britain that really stands out for me.

Young people worldwide aspire to a British education

“An attraction that Britain offers that speaks to the aspirations of millions of young people across the globe.“I’m talking about education. Something the UK truly excels in, thanks to the incredible work of people like you gathered here today. And something desired by millions of talented young minds worldwide.“From the excellence of our universities to the brilliance of our schools and teachers and the high standards set by our system of qualifications – the UK is truly a global education superpower.“After all, we have four universities in the world’s top 10, including internationally recognised institutions such as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.“British education is in demand across the World, not least among the burgeoning student population in the Middle East.“Young people know that having a British school, university or UK qualification on their CV will help unlock doors with potential employers across the globe.”At the time of year when young people are poised to learn their examination results, which for many will unlock their future careers, it is worth reflecting on the high value education is held in around the world. Education underpins economies worldwide and the conference symbolises the huge hunger for learning globally which provides competitive advantage.

Middle East presents enormous opportunities for educational providers

The Middle East continues to present enormous opportunities for British education institutions, suppliers and service providersAshwin Assomull, Head of L.E.K. Consulting’s Education Practice, presented a comprehensive overview of the Middle East education landscape for summit participants, which included key education stakeholders from the UK, as well as government entities from Dubai and Saudi Arabia. 
  • Early years education, K12, and higher education all offer opportunities for growth
  • Dubai and Abu Dhabi remain the most appealing education hotspots for expansion
  • Saudi Arabia is poised for strong growth driven by strong macroeconomic fundamentals, a clear reform agenda and changing parent preferences towards international education
According to Assomull, key cities in the Middle East such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh remain some of the most attractive markets for UK-based investors and operators.In the last three years, some 70 schools have opened in Dubai alone, which underscores the strong appeal of the emirate’s education sector for new investment.He urged the audience to pay attention to the data and not the chatter, in particular regarding the Dubai education landscape, which has given parents wider choice across all price segments. Expatriate families now have wider options, with the premium schools market dominated by global and regional chains. Assomull regarded this as a healthy situation, with the market leveling out.

Watch Jitin Sethi of L.E.K. Consulting's keynote about the evolving world of international education:


Early childhood care and education (ECCE) expanding rapidly

But a bigger window of opportunity lies in the early childhood care and education (ECCE), especially in Dubai where adoption of formal schooling in early years is low compared to international benchmarks, which means, “a potential segment that UK education institutions and education suppliers could leverage,” continued Assomull.In UAE early years, expansion of the super-premium and premium segments have demonstrated the fastest growth, driven by global and local chains.UAE Higher Education also demonstrates a growth story. The Dubai private HE market comprises of KHDA and CAA universities and the segment has grown by six per cent over the last three years. International students make up 95 per cent of all students in Dubai HE, with transnational students driving growth.China could become the growth driver for transnational education expats in the future. Dubai is expected to grow as a result of visa tightening regulations in the US and UK. However international HE student mobility to the UAE is not as significant as to Australia, the UK and USA.The global consultancy firm, L.E.K.’s research also mentioned key cities in the Middle East such as Doha, Kuwait, Riyadh and Jeddah as some of the hotspots for growth in the international K-12 segment.

Read about more about the increasing numbers of international schools.


Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

According to Colliers International MENA, the education sector in KSA is the largest single education market in the combined Arabian Gulf Region with 85 per cent of schools and 68 per cent of students out of a total of 39,600 schools and 9.1 million K-12 students in the region – and that is before adding the country's expansive population profile.

It is estimated that the current market value of the Kingdom’s K-12 sector exceeds US$ 37 billion (2018). However, compared to its regional neighbours, the Kingdom has a low private school penetration rate, currently under 20 per cent of all schools and only six per cent being internationally branded, which is the lowest in the region. Their report K12 Market in KSA – Unlimited Opportunities, provides a market projection of the K-12 sector, especially in light of Vision 2030, which lists the education sector as one of the main pillars for the Kingdom’s economic and social growth, with the largest departmental budget allocation of $ 51 billion.Read the Collier's report about the K-12 market in Saudi Arabia

Higher Education picture

Aisling Conboy, Higher Education Specialist – Education Team facilitated a panel discussion with Douglas Paton, Chair of Structural Geology A Basin Analysis, University of Leeds; Becky Smith Assistant Director, International Business Development & Delivery Advance HE; Peter Christian, Head of Executive Education, Research Office, Royal College of Art and Professor Elaine Ferneley, Director, University of Manchester Worldwide.The panel agreed there were lots of opportunities to work with businesses around the region. This was thought to be an exciting time for Higher Education to do business in the Middle East during a period of transformation. Companies are interested in how to innovate and build on the customer experience. The notion of lifelong learning is being embraced, meaning delivery over a lifetime and not just over five years.Particular disciplines stood out including biology and medical faculties, as well as educating the educators. Building on the foundation of Saudi’s Vision 2030 students were looking to be international. It was felt academic institutions had a role in helping students to achieve as well as a role in supporting and empowering both male and female students to maximise their potential.In Saudi, Vision 2030 had brought a willingness to work with the UK around education and reform as the country moves from oil to non-oil revenues. The opportunity was there, not only to transfer knowledge but also to make a high impact on learning.The universities had noted the model of delivery is changing with increased demand for online education. Where the preference had been for face-to-face block teaching, now students want to engage in collaborative sessions. They wanted to collaborate with students from around the world and in the UAE virtually.Further insights gained from the UK Middle East Education Summit will be included in the Autumn issue of Relocate magazine to be published in September.IPSEF Middle East 2019 will be held 15-17 October in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

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