Across Dubai’s 208 schools, the slight fall in enrolments was primarily in Early Year grades as parents were concerned about health-safety issues. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Enrolment in Dubai private schools showed “resilience” even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, dipping less than three per cent in one academic year, a new report has said.

Across Dubai’s 208 schools, the slight fall in enrolments was primarily in Early Year grades as parents were concerned about health-safety issues, according to the latest report by L.E.K. Consulting. The number of Early Years enrolments slid from about 28,000 to around 23,000 students in 2021.

Overall, between academic year 2020 and 2021, enrolment declined by 8,000 students, from around 295,000 to about 287,000 students in Dubai private schools, L.E.K. said. For the report, it conducted its own primary research with UAE schools as well as obtained data from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and the United Kingdom-based Oxford Economics.

The nominal decline is “a testament to how well UAE authorities have managed the COVID period”, Ashwin Assomull, head of L.E.K. Consulting’s Global Education Practice, told Gulf News.

Hardest hit

The slight fall was also mainly seen in the budget segment (below Dh18,000 annual fees), the report shows. Assomull said many parents with children in the budget segment, which has many Indian schools, relocated to their home countries or elsewhere, he added, causing a decline in enrolment in the segment. Over the last academic year, the budget segment lost 9,000 students, stabilising at 130,000.

Bucking the trend

By comparison, the smallest fall was in the premium segment (above Dh75,000 annual fees), loosing just 1,000 students to register at 27,000. “In the premium segment, parents tend to have more financial resilience and savings. We’ve also seen some anecdotal kind of evidence that some of the parents are focused on a flight to quality from sort of mid-priced schools to premium schools. In the super premium segment, we have actually seen growth between last year and this year, although it is a small growth of just under one per cent,” Assomull said. The Jumeirah area, which dominates demand for premium schools, saw the highest growth in terms of private K-12 enrolment over the past four years and recorded a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of four per cent even in the pandemic year.

Return to growth?

Enrolment is expected to pick up in the upcoming academic year, the report said. More parents in the Early Years segment are expected to send their children to school within the next year “with the return of positive market sentiment following the successful vaccination drive and the nation’s strong results in managing the pandemic”. The report also indicates that the economy is “expected to bounce back strongly over the next few years, resulting in a growth in population and a corresponding increase in demand for K-12 schools”.

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New preference

Assomull said that there is also a shift in parent preferences to opt for larger school groups. “The response of larger schools to the pandemic made it apparent that they are better suited to deal with a shift to online learning. Larger schools pivoted almost overnight and brought in the best of global talent to stay on top of the situation. As students have returned to their classrooms, the larger school groups have been able to invest in developing safe back-to-school strategies, which many of their single site competitors have been less adept at doing,” he added.