UAE school fees are far too high, says Emaar chairman

Mohamed Alabbar calls for affordable education in region while Aramex founder says system is "broken"
Emaar Group chairman Mohamed Alabbar.
By Sarah Townsend
Wed 03 May 2017 03:48 PM

Private school fees are too high in the region and threaten to exclude poorer children from the education system, UAE businessman Mohamed Alabbar has warned.

The Emaar Group chairman questioned whether education should be privatised and said extortionately high private school fees were to blame for lack of access to high quality education and a general failure to prepare young people for the jobs market.

Alabbar said: “I am very close to private educators. They suck the life out of the fees.”

He added: “I’m not sure if education should really be privatised. I know private schools have good discipline. But some of these fees – how can any human being pay like this?

“So it hurts, it hurts me that the guy who needs the most help, who can’t even afford to pay AED2,000 [$500 per year]…He’s the guy we need to help.

“[The person] who can pay AED50,000 [$13,600], well, I don’t care, he can send his kids to school in London if he wishes. But what about that guy with seven kids who can’t afford to pay even AED1,000 [$272] for their education. That’s where the pain is.”

Unemployment was cited as the biggest obstacle facing young Arabs in the Middle East, while few young people outside the GCC believe their education system prepares students for the jobs of the future, according to Asda’a Burson-Marsteller’s ninth annual Arab Youth Survey, published on Wednesday.

More than one-third (35 percent) of respondents to the survey cited unemployment as their biggest concern, along with the rise of Daesh (35 percent), threat of terrorism (34 percent) and rising cost of living (27 percent).

Only half of young Arabs (51 percent) said they have confidence in their governments dealing with youth unemployment, while 49 percent of respondents said they were “not satisfied” with how schools prepare young people for the jobs world.

The survey was based on interviews with 3,500 16-24-year-olds across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

At its launch in Dubai, Alabbar said: “Educators [in the region] need to stand together and say, ‘What are we doing? What did [students] get a low mark? Why did we fail them?’”

Fadi Ghandour, founder of UAE logistics firm Aramex and managing partner of Wamda Capital, suggested there was a disconnect between the education system – its syllabuses, educators and the knowledge they produced in students – and the wider needs of the jobs market.

“I don’t want to generalise, but the product that is coming out tells us that the education system is broken; the outcome of that system is broken.

“It needs us – private sector, government sector, educators – to come together and say, what do we need to do [to improve things]? The first thing to do is to declare it’s not working.”

Private school fees in the GCC are among the highest in the world, with annual fees at schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stretching to AED80,000 ($22,000) in some cases.

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