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GCC needs 1,127 new schools by 2027 as enrolment rises

GCC new schools Gulf education UAE Ministry of Education
The Gulf's widespread adoption of technology is expected to help boost the quality of education regionally
  • Student numbers to reach 14.2 million by 2027, says Alpen Capital 
  • Estimated 1,127 additional schools needed by 2027 as demand grows
  • But education battling tight profit margins and staff shortages

The Gulf will need over a thousand new schools by 2027, according to a new report published on Wednesday.

The prediction is based on the total number of students in the GCC growing by 1.6 percent annually to reach 14.2 million by 2027.

Growth in student enrolment numbers at K-12 (kindergarten to 12th grade, or age 17-18) level is being driven by an expanding school age population and high per capita income.

Sizeable budgetary allocations and government initiatives to attract investment into education are also factors, according to banking advisory firm Alpen Capital.

Its latest GCC education industry outlook noted that widespread adoption of technology, together with increased investment in digital education platforms, are expected to boost the quality of education regionally in the years ahead. 

“The sector has advanced significantly over the past few years with governments’ focus on diversifying their economies and enhancing the quality of education,” said Sameena Ahmad, managing director of Alpen Capital Middle East. 

“The region has also witnessed significant technological investments – especially post-Covid – to establish avenues of uninterrupted learning.

“This, accompanied by rising population, high disposable incomes and increasing private sector participation is expected to drive enrolments in the region.”

With growth in enrolment comes demand for new schools. An estimated 1,127 additional schools will be needed by 2027, to reach a total of 35,208 across the GCC, according to the report. 

Demand for public schools is expected to be marginally lower than that for private schools, with growth forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 0.4 percent between 2022 and 2027, compared to 1.5 percent for private schools. 

Specific growth rates in student enrolment numbers and new schools vary widely across the GCC. They depend on country-specific population forecasts, cost of education, government support and sector maturity, Alpen added. 

Saudi Arabia is expected to remain the largest education market in the GCC, growing at a CAGR of 1.6 percent, followed by the UAE and Kuwait. 

Adult, Female, PersonReuters/Ahmed Yosri
A Saudi student practises playing the oud at school. Saudi Arabia is expected to remain the largest education market in the GCC

Across the region, the sector faces challenges, according to Ahmad. Among these are eroding profit margins – brought about by high cost of construction; inflationary pressure and the inherently long gestation period to plan and build new schools. 

There is also a shortage of skilled staff and intensifying competition from an influx of new providers, which is putting pressure on private education operators. 

There remain opportunities for investment in the GCC education industry. Mergers and acquisitions would help providers broaden geographic reach and increase their market share, investment in ed-tech platforms and other digitalisation would increase the quality of teaching and learning. 

A white paper published by Dubai private school Citizens School this week highlighted the need for curriculum reform.

Among the recommendations were to make education more relevant to future workplace demands.

A survey conducted as part of its research showed that 87 percent of parents believe digital literacy is critical for their children’s future success, while resilience and entrepreneurship were crucial for 84 percent of parents. 

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