School shortage calls for better ways of funding

To tackle the expected shortage of schools in Dubai, the emirate has to address funding

The growing school population in Dubai requires innovative solutions. Photo: Sarah Dea / The National
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The steadily increasing demand for schools in Dubai means that the authorities will have to come up with new solutions to avoid insufficient capacity becoming a significant problem. As The National reported yesterday, a report by Colliers International found that the emirate will need as many as 52 new schools by the end of the decade to keep pace with the emirate's growth.

But is this feasible given the short time frame combined with the need to keep the focus on improving the overall quality of education across Dubai’s private schools?

This situation is complicated and requires a cautious approach to find a solution. One answer could be to encourage new operators to come to this country and open up additional schools. But new entrants are likely to face financing problems with banks.

A better solution could be to encourage existing operators to open new facilities in the emirate.

But securing loans is rarely easy even for established players. It is especially hard for operators who do not just want to invest in the bricks and mortar of a school’s premises, but want to use funding to bring in high-quality teaching staff and equipment. Getting loans approved was identified in the report as a key obstacle facing operators, who need to find an average of Dh275 million to develop a school for between 500 and 2,000 pupils.

Creating more schools must not lead to a reduction in quality, which is a risk at times of aggressive expansion. One way to avoid this could be to urge existing schools to build extra classrooms, but even this is not without its pitfalls. Many schools are already at the limits of their physical footprint and simply unable to expand further or are already large institutions with thousands of pupils enrolled.

Different funding models could also be introduced to address the schools shortage in Dubai, including the possibility of loan guarantees for those who enter the sector to meet the demand. These could also involve the community at large, with the need to have more non-profit community schools to cater for low-income families whose budgets are currently severely stretched by school fees.