Many Indian schools in Dubai have recorded a boom in enrolments, particularly from families who moved to the UAE this year.
Head teachers reported that instead of the usual movement of pupils within UAE schools, they have had requests for admissions and school tours from parents who had recently arrived in the Emirates.
The population of Dubai is projected to nearly double in the next 20 years, according to experts, who predict a new wave of post-pandemic immigration.
Factoring in the cost of education is a major consideration for people moving to the emirate.
Schools fees vary widely in Dubai. On the lower end of the scale, English Language Private School charges between Dh4,560 and Dh6,720 a year ($1,240 to $1,830) from Years 1 to 6.
A report published by the KHDA in November found more than four in 10 parents of pupils at private schools in Dubai pay less than Dh18,000 ($4,900) a year in fees.
Fees at Indian schools in Dubai range from about Dh360 a month to Dh5,200 a month.
Gulf Model School charges about Dh4,200 a year for kindergarten while Gems Modern Academy charges Dh35,360 a year for the same grade. The fees for Grade 12 at Gems Modern Academy are Dh52,427.
Demand for Indian schools is high. Shiny Davison, Gulf Model School’s director of learning, said they had enrolled 700 new pupils since January, enough on its own to open a new school.
Of these, 500 had moved to Dubai from India this year.
Ms Davison said that almost 1,000 pupils left the school during the pandemic, but this year 700 new pupils had already enrolled, forcing the school to close admissions early.
“I will have to close admissions because the capacity of my school stops at 3,500," Ms Davison said. The school has 3,200 pupils enrolled.
“Most of the parents are moving here because of the job opportunities and growing economy," she said.
“During the pandemic, we had many families moving back home to India.
“The trend at my school is that we start admissions by October and it trickles in and we came to a number of 400.
"But this year, we started admission very late and have already enrolled 700 pupils."
Ms Davison said that although the school had a waiting list, she did not feel it would be used this year.
Affordability, quality of education and popularity through word-of-mouth messages in the community are some of the reasons parents picked her school, she said.
Nargish Khambatta, principal of Gems Modern Academy in Dubai, said: “Over the year, we've seen a steady trickle come in. The intense period for us for taking new admissions is February to March, and we've seen a much higher intake than we do normally.
“Usually, there's an internal float that happens among schools but this time we've seen them [pupils] coming in from India. We've definitely seen a shift.
"In 2021 we had 105 overseas applicants come in and this year we're exceeding that.
"We have gone from one tour a week to four tours."
Lockdowns in India meant pupils were unable to attend in-person classes for months. Ms Khambatta said many parents had been concerned about the academic toll on pupils.
"From the conversations we've had with our families, they see the UAE as a safe haven," Ms Khambatta said.
"There are business people and senior executives who moved and brought their families because they feel that this is the most stable or safe environment."
She said most enquiries were for primary grades.
Fatima Martin, principal at Gems New Millennium School, said the majority of new families at her school had moved from major cities in India. The school has 2,200 pupils.
Since January, the school has enrolled about 200 pupils who are new to the country, she said.
“I think that definitely there has been a recent increase in the number of families that are moving in from India to the UAE because of greater job opportunities," Ms Martin said.
She said another reason for the migration could be better education, which was a priority for many Indian families.
Writer Relocations, which handles more than 8,000 relocations every year, has recorded an upsurge in immigration and relocation of families to the GCC region, especially the UAE, since the reopening of borders last year.
“As the border restrictions are lowered, we are seeing a major upsurge in the immigration and relocation mandates,” said Mr Simon Mason, chief operating officer and chief revenue officer, Writer Relocations.
"The Indian subcontinent is a major contributor to the number of families moving to the UAE. We are witnessing increased movement from countries like the UK and other EMEA countries too.
“Although the relocations movement was low during the Covid period, we are expecting the market to become regularised and expect a major upsurge in people moving to the UAE.
“In 2020-2021, we have handled over 600 assignees and their families. We are expecting the numbers to grow gradually as people and corporates resume relocation plans in the coming months.”
He said the UAE was one of the busiest destinations for expat movement. Most of the moves to the UAE were from India, the UK, the US, Qatar, China and Singapore.
Gidhin George Kochuthara, an Indian IT project manager, moved to the UAE in December with his wife Emini Gidhin and three children.
Mr Kochuthara chose the UAE for work when the opportunity presented itself at his company.
A job opportunity, a tax-free income and cultural and climate similarities to India were the main reasons for Mr Kochuthara.
"Dubai is like a dreamland becayuse there are many career opportunities. My client is in Dubai and I'm managing a project called robotic process automation," Mr Kochuthara said.
"The standard of education is very good here and I have three kids. Education is a huge expense for me."
He said his wife was working in a multinational corporation in India, but that she had left her job to move to the Emirates.
Mr Kochuthara has enrolled his sons Galvin and Elvin at Gulf Model School.