Stock School classroom students
The education sector is now flourishing in Dubai amid an influx of expatriates to the emirate. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai-based GEMS Education is considering options for the business after talks to sell a controlling stake to a consortium of Abu Dhabi state-backed entities stalled over valuation, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wealth fund ADQ and real estate developer Aldar Properties PJSC haven’t been able to agree on a price with the owners of GEMS, who were seeking to sell a stake at a $6 billion valuation, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing private information.

The firm may now look to invite other bidders or consider listing the business, the people said. Talks with the Abu Dhabi bidders, which began late last year, have not officially ended and could still be restarted at a later date, they said.

Representatives for ADQ, Aldar, CVC and GEMS declined to comment.

GEMS, owned by its founder Sunny Varkey and buyout firm CVC Capital Partners, is one of the world’s largest private school operators. The owners were weighing options including an initial public offering, Bloomberg reported in September, though their preferred exit route at the time was a sale.

Varkey also held talks to sell some of his stake in GEMS in 2020, but was stymied by the pandemic, which forced schools to shut down for months. GEMS, which has about 60 schools across the Middle East and North Africa, considered an IPO in 2019 but Dubai’s decision to freeze school fees at the time disrupted those plans.

The sector is now flourishing in Dubai amid an influx of expatriates to the emirate. Parents in the UAE are already among the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to educating their children and the city will allow some private schools to raise fees by 3 per cent this year depending on their ratings.