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Non-profit Schools May Have Promise for UAE Education Sector

Al Qasimi Foundation
March 26, 2014

In an on-going study focusing on schools, parents, and education stakeholders, the Al Qasimi Foundation’s research team is exploring the growing private education sector and its role in attracting and retaining professional talent in the UAE as it continues to build its economy.

The study is funded jointly by the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (PERI), a global research initiative on alternative education provision, and the Al Qasimi Foundation. It represents a chapter in what will be published as a volume on the privatization of education in the Middle East.
In the UAE, private education utilizes a range of curricula, including Arabic, American, British, and Indian systems. Through surveys and interviews with educators and administrators, Foundation researchers are attempting to grasp the scale and scope of private schooling in the UAE and to expound on its impact on the economy.

“With nearly 500 private schools across the UAE catering to both the expatriate and increasingly national populations,” says Dr. Natasha Ridge, the Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation and its lead researcher, “it is crucial to open lines for an empirically-based discussion on private education and what it means for the sustainability of the nation’s social and economic structures.”

The study’s preliminary results reveal that differences exist among parents’ perceptions of the value of their children’s education. Such differences appear most clearly between for-profit and non-profit private school contexts. For example, parents of children enrolled in non-profit schools were generally happier with the quality of education received for the amount of tuition paid than those whose children attended for-profit schools.

Fifty percent of parents who chose non-profit private schools strongly agreed with the statement, “The quality of education is in line with school fees,” as can be seen in Figure 1. However, only 30% of parents investing in for-profit education strongly agreed with the same statement.

Figure 1:

Initial findings also indicate that a large percentage of families who enroll their children in non-profit private schools have Western backgrounds and are generally more able to afford the higher tuition rates that are typical of such institutions. South Asians and expatriate Arabs, on the other hand, are less likely to be able to afford to send their students to non-profit private schools.

With this in mind, Foundation researchers plan to further investigate the role of the low-cost, non-profit private schools in the UAE’s education system. They are also interested in how this option might be beneficial in providing quality education to those who may otherwise not have access to it. Finally, the study will investigate the state’s role in incentivizing a more accessible form of private education for expatriates.

In the meantime, educators and researchers in the UAE are not alone in their efforts to understand and improve education in the emirates. In fact, academics from around the globe are traveling to Dubai this April to discuss both private and public education issues at the annual Gulf Comparative Education Society Symposium.

A scholar who is particularly invested in the issue of private education is Dr. Keith Lewin, who is Professor of International Education and Development at the University of Sussex as well as a member of the research board of the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative.

“The recent history of the evolution of access to education generates the starting points for policy dialogue on how to accelerate progress towards universal access,” explains Dr. Lewin, indicating that research is the basis for constructive educational reform. Researcher Ms. Susan Kippels, who has lived and worked throughout the Middle East, agrees.

“The research being invested in the UAE’s education system is encouraging because it has practical value for this generation and the next,” says Ms. Kippels.