The pre-primary education sector in the GCC has increased significantly in recent years, with countries seeing a great push to educate children at pre-primary level. The private sector largely dominates this industry in the region. For example, statistics from 2009 show that in Dubai alone there were 82 private licensed nurseries in which 7,551 children were enrolled, but only 2 government run nurseries.

With pre-primary education having typically been a largely expatriate concept, governments in the region are beginning to see the value in investing in primary education and under the National Development Strategy (for 2011-2016), the Qatari Government has in fact made kindergarten attendance mandatory for all Qatari children from the age of three. We believe that other GCC states will be following suit shortly.

Primary and secondary education (K12)

There is an ever increasing demand for world class private schools across the MENA region. While Governments are taking an active role in improving state-run schools, they are also encouraging  involvement from investors and operators in the private school market. The combined value of the  private school market for primary and secondary education in Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi  Arabia is estimated to be USD 4,816 million in terms of annual tuition fees, with the largest of  these markets being Saudi Arabia.

There is however a divergence in market trends. In Bahrain, there are a number of private schools  operated by international companies but these are very much in the minority, whereas in the UAE  there has been shift in the attitude of UAE nationals towards private schools. Many UAE nationals  are moving their children to international schools in order to obtain better quality education.  Dubai is also generally considered to have the most advanced private school market in the GCC  region, particularly in terms of regulation. Many other GCC countries are following this example.

Higher education    

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ordered the establishment of 3 new public  universities, bringing the total number of public universities in the Kingdom to 28. Under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia has  seen an enormous increase in the investment in the education of its nationals, with it now  estimated that government spend on education in Saudi Arabia accounts for around 19% of total  government expenditure.

The number of universities in the Kingdom has increased from 7 to 28 since King Abdullah ascended  to the throne in 2005 and Saudi Arabia has emerged in recent years as the top spender  in the  region on education projects, accounting for approximately 43% of the education sector expenditure  in the region. We see no signs of Saudi Arabia’s push to educate its nationals slowing down and  this type of growth is reflected in countries across the GCC region, with the government  expenditure on education in Qatar, the UAE and Oman, amounting to 19.6%, 23.4% and 31% respectively.

Vocational education

There is an increasing awareness from Governments within the region that vocational education is an important contributor to high employment rates amongst nationals. Countries with a large  proportion of underemployed young people, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya, are now focusing  on vocational training to ensure their youth are given the necessary skills to enter the workforce.

Saudi Arabia has identified the provision of high-quality jobs for Saudi nationals as one of its  critical priorities and vocational training is seen as core to achieving that goal. Saudi Arabia  has set an ambitious target of 40-45% of secondary school graduates entering vocational training  (currently  less than 10%). The value of the vocational training market in Saudi Arabia is  estimated to be USD 184 million. The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation is already  seeking to develop the sector, with its colleges of excellence project which will function as a  one-stop-shop for international training providers and form a large number of PPP colleges.

The Libyan Government has identified training, education and general capacity building as a key  priority. Historically, the Government has been the only major employer in Libya. Following the  revolution and the end of the Gadaffi regime, there is a vast amount of emphasis placed on  increasing the skill set of the Libyan workforce so that (a) they can be employed by the private  sector and (b) make the public sector more effective. Foreign governments, acting through their  trade promotion agencies, such as UK Trade & Investment, recognise the need for training and education as an immediate opportunity for training providers. This is usually achieved through a  combination of in-country training and sending talented Libyans abroad. We have seen a number  of  clients who are, as part of wider commercial arrangements or on a stand-alone basis, providing  vocational training to the Libyan workforce in a variety of different sectors. Despite the recent  deterioration of the security situation in Libya, the Libyan Ministries and Institutions continue  to place high emphasis on training with a focus on education abroad. We continue to see such  training in a number of different sectors.