Gulf states see their future in education

Published on 17 Jan, 2017

Gulf state members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are spending $150 billion a year on education, the GCC Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry recently determined. 

With a 2020 student population projected at 11.3 million, GCC states must look to a future with a much diminished reliance on oil and more on economic diversification. To that end, they realize they must focus on education efforts that will retrain workers and lead to opportunities for the coming generation.

Saudi Arabia makes up 75 percent of the total GCC student population projection, and the Saudis have announced a range of programs aimed at developing educational opportunities.

''There is a need for in-depth study of the challenges facing the delivery of quality education, despite the huge funds spent throughout the past decades,'' Abdul Rahman Al Naqi, secretary-general of the GCC Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said.

To get more of an idea of how GCC countries will invest in these initiatives, the Gulf News Journal spoke to Riddhi Parekh, senior analyst of investment research and analytics at the research firm Aranca. Parekh has nearly four years of equity research experience across markets in the Middle East and Europe.

“A significant share of GCC budget expenditure is being reserved for the development and modernization of the education sector, despite economic challenges,” Parekh said, noting that Saudi Arabia and the UAE both spend at least 20 percent of their budgets on education. “Despite the huge funds allocated to the sector, it still faces challenges, such as a shortage of qualified teachers and sub-par education quality vis-à-vis global standards. This creates a skills gap … thus raising the youth unemployment rate across the GCC.”

However, Parekh also cited International Monetary Fund figures showing that per capita incomes across the region are expected to increase for the next few years.

“As affordability improves and a willingness to spend on education becomes apparent in the GCC, residents are keen to spend a large share of their disposable income on schooling,” Parekh said. “There has been a rise in preference for private schools providing international curriculum, primarily due to the high quality of education they offer. Measures to boost private-sector investment and an inclination toward international curricula among citizens are factors attracting leading foreign education institutes to the region.”

Parekh said projects worth more than $50 billion are currently in various stages of development in the education sector in GCC countries, with Saudi Arabia accounting for the majority share. Parekh cited King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated value of $14.7 billion, and the Sabah Al Salem University in Kuwait, estimated at $3 billion, as the largest such programs in the GCC.

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