Enrolment rates in Dubai schools are swelling as the number of families leaving the emirate declines, with senior school figures telling The National that waiting lists are now commonplace.
New schools are being built to cope with the influx of extra pupils, with some schools operating on a strict one-out, one-in policy.
“One of the main reasons is because families are not looking at staying in Dubai on a temporary basis any more,” said Lisa Whyte, head of admissions at school operator Taaleem.
“The days of people staying in Dubai for a year or two seem quite old-fashioned now.
“They are looking at staying here for the long term now.”
Five years ago, as much as 10 per cent of pupils were leaving Taaleem schools due to their families moving to other countries.
Now that figure is down to 1.5 per cent, according to Ms Whyte.
“We’re seeing a lot of parents buying their homes now, a lot more than previously was the case. They aren’t renting as much,” she said.
The shift away from the transitory lifestyle of previous years has created challenges for educators in the UAE.
“The number of pupils applying to our UK curriculum schools far outweighs the number of seats available,” she said.
“Dubai British School Emirates Hills has always been oversubscribed, but this year, Dubai British School Jumeirah Park has also reached capacity regarding pupil enrolment.
“Due to not having enough seats in our current UK curriculum schools to accommodate the influx of applications, the two new schools we have announced will be well received by parents, as they are needed to meet demand.”
Taaleem announced in May that the Dubai British School Jumeira would open in August 2024, in time for the 2024-25 academic year.
It will have the capacity for 1,650 pupils in Al Wasl and another school will open in Mira in 2025.
An average waiting list would be about 150 pupils long in an oversubscribed school such as Dubai Emirates Hills, she added.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the emirate's education regulator, announced in March that Dubai's private school population had surpassed 300,000 for the first time.
The emirate’s population reached the 3.5 million mark in April last year due to a rise in migration.
Population growth is a driving factor for Dubai’s government, with a target figure of 5.8 million planned by 2040, along with a major physical expansion of the city.
“Dubai is increasingly being seen as a place to commit to and settle down in now,” said Campbell Douglas, president and chief executive of Gems Wellington Academy Al Khail.
“Golden visas, attractive business start-up packages, lifestyle opportunities, a buoyant economy and its continuing reputation as an extremely safe place to live means that people are seeing Dubai as a great place to bring your family and settle in.”
This has led to an increase in pupil numbers, he added.
“Fortunately, at Gems Wellington Academy Al Khail, we have been able to accommodate these increases in most year groups for this year,” said Mr Douglas.
“However, come September, we will be close to full and have waiting lists in all primary year groups as well as some secondary.
“We will need to operate these waiting lists on a one-out, one-in scenario as we will not compromise on the space and facilities we offer to students by over-enrolling.”
Another factor for the surge in pupils has been how Dubai has positioned itself in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, said another expert.
“Fewer students are leaving the country and we're still seeing significant numbers of new joiners arriving from other countries,” said Simon Herbert, head of school and chief executive at Gems International School Al Khail.
“Following the Covid-19 pandemic, jobs have settled and people see Dubai as a desirable location, with opportunity for stability and progression.
“Schools in Dubai are equally attractive, offering a variety of curriculums, including blended curricula, to suit the needs and aspirations of a wide range of families.”