Schoolchildren provide clue to Dubai population conundrum

Citigroup has come up with a novel way of measuring swings in Dubai's population: school enrolment data.

Citigroup research showed growth among expatriate school students reached 8 per cent in the academic calendar running last year to this year. Pawan Singh / The National
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Economists have long grumbled about a lack of timely and reliable statistics to measure changes in Dubai's population.

Now Citigroup has come up with a novel way of gauging growth: school enrolment figures.

"We have used the school enrolment patterns as a blueprint for white-collar expatriate population growth more widely in the emirate," wrote Farouk Soussa,the chief economist for Citi in the Middle East and North Africa region, in a just-released research report.

The data shows growth among expatriate school students reached 8 per cent in the 2011-2012 academic year.

The statistics also show a steady recovery in school populations since 2009, when enrolment growth plummeted to just 1.7 per cent, reflecting an exodus of expatriates after a wave of job losses following the global financial crisis.

Citi said the data provided further evidence of Dubai's recovery, reflecting a rise in employment.

"In an economy where 96 per cent of the workforce is made up of expatriates whose right to reside in the emirate is linked to their ongoing employment, the feedback between growth and demographics is particularly acute," wrote Mr Soussa.

"Not only does a growing population indicate higher employment and thus a healthy economy, it is also reinforces economic growth as it equates, prima facie, to higher domestic demand."

Availability of official data examining the emirate's population in detail is patchy. The emirate's population stood at 2.08 million yesterday, according to a gauge on the website of the Dubai Statistics Centre.

The population crossed the 2 million mark last year, according to the centre.

But Citi believes analysis of population growth should focus more on the white-collar segment rather than the total labour force, which includes a large proportion of unskilled foreign workers.

The white-collar population provided a greater contribution to housing and overall consumer demand, the report said.

Signs from across the emirate's economy have pointed towards a pick-up in activity this year. Expanding non-oil trade, record numbers of passengers flying through Dubai International Airport and a tentative recovery in the once-sickly property market have all helped to bolster output.