Dubai’s private K-12 education market returns to growth

06 December 2021 3 min. read

Following a dip in enrolments during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak, Dubai’s private K-12 market is on a rebound, and is set to grow by up to 3% in 2022, according to a new report by L.E.K. Consulting.

Prior to the pandemic, in the 2019-20 school year, Dubai’s private K-12 market (K–12 stands for kindergarten to 12th grade, the equivalent of primary and secondary education) had a total enrolment of 295,148 children, studying across just over 200 schools. During the pandemic, that number dropped to 279,191 for the 2020-21 term due to less inbound activity as a result of the economic downturn and fear of infection.

New data from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai's private education regulator, now shows that the number of enrolments in the emirate has risen to 289,019 pupils for the 2021-21 term, meaning that the market for private K-12 education is closing in on its pre-pandemic level.

Dubai’s private K-12 education market returns to growth

According to Ashwin Assomull, Head of the Global Education practice of L.E.K. Consulting, the rapid rebound – which is quicker than in most other parts of the world – demonstrates the resilience of the UAE’s economy and the efforts put in by stakeholders within the education landscape.

“The pandemic forced the K-12 sector globally to shift online learning. UAE demonstrated best practice in getting children back to school as safely and quickly as possible. UAE school operators and regulators worked closely together to support students, teachers and parents through a difficult time and helped strengthen the country’s position as one of the most attractive destinations for investment in education,” Assomull said.

These efforts have led to a number of growth drivers. The influx of new families moving into Dubai was an obvious one, with Dubai’s “leadership in dealing with the economy, healthcare and international travel through the pandemic strengthening its position as a hub for talented expats,” said Assomull.

Meanwhile, the sector saw strong growth in the number of enrolments of very young children (aged under 5). During the pandemic, a significant number of parents were reluctant to send their children to school as they did not believe that online learning would be effective in early years. Hence, they were willing to economise on tuition fees and open to have their children skip a year.

Assomull: “When Covid-19 hit, many parents said they did not want to send their children to school in early years because school was online.”

As one mother of a 3-and-a-half-year-old told The National, “Sending my daughter to school to school to sit front of a screen for hours did not make sense to me. I have instead homeschooled her and thought I could do a better job at home as I am a hands-on mum.”

But with schools now back open for the 2021-22 year, “this segment has bounced back significantly,” said Assomull. “We are expecting to see a bit more of enrolments in January 2022 because everything's much more open now.”

The road ahead

The study by L.E.K. Consulting, a global strategy consulting firm with a strong presence in the education sector, expects private K-12 enrolment to grow at 2% to 3% per annum for the coming decade, in line with the UAE’s economic growth path. If the forecast maps out well, then by the 2031-22 school year, the student population will have reached around 345,000 enrolments.

International students are expected to be the fastest growing group (+5% per annum), with in particular the number of enrolments from countries such as India, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Philippines featuring high on the growth list. Emiratis and long term expatriates will however continue to make up the bulk of total enrolments.

Zooming in on the influx expected from China, Assomull said: “Given the regulatory changes in China, there are multiple barriers for Chinese students to get to Anglophone countries. Dubai can look at absorbing this demand and growing the private higher education market.”