The international schools market is growing exponentially. New schools are opening all the time and student enrolment is booming. Certain geographical regions appear to be taking the lead and the United Arab Emirates is a prime example of a region bursting with opportunity.

I was privileged recently to be invited to a seminar hosted by Ashwin Assomull, Managing Director at The Parthenon Group, together with UKTI Education and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) of Dubai. The speakers provided perspectives on what Dubai needs for further development of its private schools sector, as well as comparing and contrasting the Dubai opportunity relative to other international schools markets.

Emily Ashwell, MD of UKTI Education explained that an important strand of HM Government’s Industrial Strategy is focussed on international education, keeping the internationally renowned UK education sector at the forefront of the global education market, bringing with it jobs and growth.

Just to demonstrate the growth of the sector overall:

  • Over the past two years since 2012 the number of English-medium schools globally has risen from approximately 6,300 to 7,300.
  • Of these, in 2012, about 3,000 were British International Schools and this has now risen to around 3,500.
  • In the UAE there are currently 244 international schools of which 140 are in Dubai. Linear forecasts suggest that by 2020 the number in Dubai will have risen to 200, potentially even as far as 260.

It is hard to fathom that half a century ago, in 1963, Dubai only had two schools, and one of them was British (The Indian High School and Dubai English Speaking School). Now, the growth is so rapid that in the past year alone, eleven new schools have opened.

As one might imagine, UKTI therefore see Dubai as a priority market for the promotion and development of British education. The KHDA, responsible for the growth, direction and quality of education in Dubai, are warmly extending open arms to the UK. Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director General of the KHDA, outlined his vision for the schools sector.  

Unlike the UK where the independent schools sector accounts for only a small minority of pupils and the majority of schools are not-for-profit, in Dubai about 90% of students attend private schools and roughly 80% of those are for-profit. The market has been designed such that schools in Dubai offer a very diverse range of curricula, at various price-points, ensuring that private education is accessible and affordable to all. Yet there is a major focus on quality. KHDA are very clear in their intention not to allow growth at the cost of quality. Before schools are given permission to open, their investors and operators are expected to prove that they will provide a high quality education and that they are in it for the long haul. KHDA maintains rigorous ongoing quality assurance through stringent regulation and inspection. School fees are regulated, calculated through an Educational Cost Index which is directly linked to quality, and this tells schools by how much they can increase their annual fees. The purpose of this regulation is to protect students and parents as beneficiaries of educational services and to provide a favourable environment for investors in the education sector, encouraging them to improve the quality of education.    

Kathloom Al Balooshi, Director of Institutional Development, outlined the various options that the KHDA have created for setting up schools in Dubai, which include the branch school model and the shared management model. Kathloom was keen to point out however, that these options are not exclusive. KHDA are open to discussion around innovative and creative solutions, but clearly the expectation is that relevant expertise should be brought in for new school developments, stakeholders should focus on their core competencies, and school operators need to take ownership for their accountability, and not take it lightly.

For school leaders, there are enormous opportunities globally for launching and leading new schools. At LSC Education we recommend to our candidates to research the market thoroughly when considering their next career move, to learn more about what type of school might suit them, in what location and what they need to do to professionally prepare themselves for their next leadership post. The skillset required for a Founding Head/Principal can be quite different to the skills required for leading an established school. However, for those embarking on such a move, the challenge can be highly rewarding.


Edward Clark

Executive Director

Executive Director
Executive Director

LSC Education