Education in the Gulf region

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) aim to reduce the dependency of their economies on the hydrocarbon industries. Governments across the region have acknowledged that education as a sector is critical in shaping a country’s economy and that it plays a key role in its overall development.

All GCC governments announced sizeable budgetary allocations as well as reforms. They focus on enhancing the quality and reach of education across the GCC. A top priority will remain building the ‘hardware’, schools and universities.

The education system in the GCC is still evolving. The sector receives a strong impulse from intrinsic drivers such as population growth, increasing spending propensity, a growing number of expatriates, and the rising importance of high quality education in society. Concerns exist about how job market ready young nationals are after graduation, especially in the private sector. Educational reform to produce well-prepared young people to enter private and public sector employment remains a key issue in the Gulf region. The implementation of major reforms includes new curricula, improved teaching standards, increased professional freedom and enhanced use of ICT. 

At present, enrolment rates at primary and secondary level are above 90% for almost all Gulf countries as education is free and compulsory for all GCC nationals (Deloitte, A Middle East Point of View, Spring 2014). Private schools offering international curricula are emerging as a preferred choice over public schools. Private institutes across the GCC are also attracting students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, who seek quality education within a geographically proximate area.

It is a different picture at the tertiary level with an average 23% enrolment rate across the region, which is much lower than in many developed countries. The region has witnessed the establishment of several foreign affiliated universities and branches of foreign universities in the recent past. This trend is likely to enhance the quality of higher education in the region.

The education sector presents tremendous opportunities for private investors. Both local and international private players are attracted to segments such as K-12 and higher education, which are the largest within the sector. New and promising industry-specific niche sectors also receive increased investor attention, such as vocational training, finishing schools, skill enhancement, and e-learning.

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