- The UAE has some of the world's best schools in terms of infra-structure, and the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education.
- The region has some wonderful schools but faces the "in between syndrome", when it comes to providing affordable quality education.
- It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone" for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world.
Four years into education in the UAE, after thirty years in various parts of the world, I am confronted by a thought provoking situation. The UAE has some of the world's best schools in terms of infra-structure, the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education, has achieved over 90 percent literacy, stands high on the United Nations’ Education Index, has a very high rate of female education, and gives free education to its citizens. The Ministry of Education has adopted “Education 2020” with emphasis on Mathematics, English and Teacher Training. All of this is greatly commendable. The next step would obviously be to move towards becoming a destination for the global diaspora seeking a quality education. It is one of the best parts of the world to live in; it must become a supply center of a globally employable workforce.
Four years ago I was Head of an international school in India which had 63 nationalities of students. Most of these were people of Indian origin coming in from around the world for a taste of India and for an affordable world class education. There are many schools and colleges of this kind in India and they attract a healthy clientele. There are two key words here: world class and affordable. This is what brought in huge numbers of Korean students as also students from other non -English speaking countries where quality education either does not exist or is very expensive. There is further synergy with a plethora of higher education opportunities, both traditional and those which can be exciting for the seekers of the more exotic courses; and all of this at an affordable price.
Let us now look at the scenario in the Middle East. The region has some wonderful schools but faces the "in between syndrome". In terms of affordability the area is disadvantaged by far cheaper options in other countries; in terms of quality there is a lack of synergy with higher education within the countries of the region and a lack of confidence which makes parents move children to their home countries closer to the school leaving stage. This is to a large extent because the variety of tertiary education in the region is limited and because it costs a fraction in many other countries.
It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone" for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world. As of now the conditions prevent education companies from lowering fees and from introducing new and quality courses to attract foreign custom. Add to this the shortage of university courses with global placements and you have the reasons for the "in between syndrome".
If countries with much poorer infrastructure and little political will can attract students who want to become eligible for global careers, the Middle East has all the essential requisites to make it big in this field. If a degree in medicine costs 50000 dollars in the US, it is much lower in Ireland and in parts of Southeast Asia.
But cheaper and quality education needs support. One would be the creation of a special package for education companies. With a large percentage of expat population, that too of diverse ethnicity, competition with home country options becomes fearsome both in terms of quality and costs. The second would be a quality control regime which is not based upon a system with limited success, but a system modified to suit local needs. The region has to cater to varied output standards at the K-12 level to suit differently perceived success criteria in home countries. Alternatively, the region must provide attractive options for tertiary education in conformity with standards established locally at the K-12 level. Together this could lead to a new era of education in the region.