The UAE continues to lead the way in the number of English-medium international schools worldwide, says ISC’s latest market intelligence report. With 548 institutions, it’s three schools ahead of China.
But, almost half (47%) of international schools in the UAE teach an English curriculum leaving expansion plans vulnerable to any shortages in quality teaching staff from the UK, the report warns.
“Some of the Emirates are now requiring candidates to have very specific degrees”
Nalini Cook, Middle East regional consultant for ISC Research, attributed two causes for the predicted fall in UK curriculum trained staff: less competitive teacher salaries in the UAE and the UK itself experiencing a teacher shortage.
Recruiting and maintaining quality teaching staff is a momentous task for international schools globally. Diane Jacoutot, managing director of Edvectus, an international school recruitment company, said the short supply of UK teachers has provoked some schools to start recruiting as early as November for the next academic year.
“As an added challenge, some of the Emirates are now requiring candidates to have very specific degrees, which do not match what the UK is producing, narrowing the field even further,” she said advising schools that “a strategic approach is imperative.”
The report adds that declining oil prices could also stump growth in the market. It notes that many schools are seeing expatriates enrol without employers providing full funds for the fees.
“Many companies in the oil and gas industry have covered or contributed to the cost of school fees for the children of staff and these companies may have to cut back on such expenses,” noted Cook. “This may cause school fees to stabilise or come down over the next two years.”
According to ISC research, there are 518,500 students enrolled in international schools in the UAE as of January, an increase of 64,500 from the year before.
Overall, enrolment in UAE’s international schools from January 2011 to January this year has increased by 86%.
“This new demographic … has supplied an increasing demand for excellent international schools there”
The majority of these schools are situated in Dubai, which has 260, and Abu Dhabi, the location of 191 schools.
Another 14 are under construction, due to open this year.
Despite the opaque future for expansion, the report does forecast growth in the market, pegging for the first time the Northern Emirates, with only 29 schools, as the area presenting the most opportunities.
The growth in this region is driven by a shortage of premium accredited educational provision as well as the increasing cost of living in Dubai, said Cook.
More expatriates are living in the Northern Emirates of Sharjah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah, where housing and schooling is cheaper than in the rest of the country, and it is still possible to commute to work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“This new demographic, alongside the continually expanding local population, has supplied an increasing demand for excellent international schools there and this looks set to continue,” she said.