Sep. 25, 2012

Dr. Abdulla Al Karam

UAE, Dubai

Dr. Abdulla Al Karam

Chairman of the Board of Directors & Director General, Knowledge & Human Development Authority


Dr. Abdulla Al Karam is the Chairman of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, a Dubai government department created in 2007 to ensure standards and improve accessibility to education and learning, as well as nurture human resource development. Between 2002 and 2006 he served as CEO during the establishment of Dubai’s Knowledge Village. He has held many positions across government and also has experience in both corporate and academic spaces.

When and why was the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) established?

KHDA was established in April 2007, with a local decree from the government of Dubai. An education council had been in place for about 18 months prior to this. The government realized that education needed to keep pace with the demands of modern society. The government commissioned the KHDA as a local authority to monitor and improve the delivery of education, particularly in the private sector and the key stages of schooling. We also have a remit to look at the growth of early learning, higher education, and training centers. Our role is basically as a regulator for the sector; we work with other departments to ensure that education keeps up with the pace and demands of development in Dubai.

How do you work in collaboration with other entities in the Knowledge Village and Academic City?

In 2002, there were very few private universities. The government had the idea of creating an Academic City cluster, where regional branch campuses of international universities could be set up in the free zones of Dubai. Dubai-based students would initially attend these universities, to be followed by students in the region. The plan is that we will be able to provide locally educated talent to meet the needs of the labor market, rather than bringing in people from abroad. Students do leave Dubai after high school, whether for social or financial reasons. Between 2003 and 2005, there was not a great impetus to improve higher and further education—there was a real need to set up these small cities and centers to advance the cause of academia and professional training institutes. Since then, these cities have expanded to house many branch campuses. Our role at KHDA is to quality assure these institutions and encourage them to provide courses that meet the diverse demands of Dubai's future labor force.

What work are you doing to promote international education in Dubai?

The history of private international education here goes as far back as the 1960s. At that time, a group of Indian traders requested to set up a community school for the Indian expatriates who had settled in Dubai. The government provided land, and this was the birth of the first private school in Dubai. After that, the British who had settled in Dubai requested a British school be built. In the 1970s, US citizens expressed an interest in building an American school. Historically, private schools were set up for business reasons, geared toward certain communities. As more people came to Dubai in the 1980s and 1990s, the number of private schools continued to increase. However, the real turning point occurred in the 2000s with the establishment of free zones. Also around that time, operators were legally entitled to own properties. As a result of these government decisions, many expatriates chose to stay in Dubai for a longer time, and the population grew by more than 10% per year. As a result of these initiatives, 87% of all education in Dubai currently takes place in the private sector. Over 50% of Emirati nationals also attend private schools. About 13% of students in private schools (25,000) commute to Dubai from other emirates. Driven by national and expatriate demand, Dubai currently boasts the greatest number of branch university campuses in the world.

How do you foresee the growth of the education sector in Dubai?

Schools in Dubai are very diverse. There are 13 different international curricula operating, with most students attending Indian, UK, and US curriculum schools. We have to bear in mind the business models of each school. There are community schools, embassy schools, and philanthropic schools; some are non-profit while others are operated for profit. We also have to understand the different sizes of schools. The KHDA oversees schools of 50, 500, 5,000, and 10,000 students. The fees are also very diverse. From 2001-2008, there was an average of 7% growth in school enrolments each year. Between 2008-2011, we registered 4% annual growth, mainly in the private sector. We are also seeing a consistent increase in the number of students enrolled in higher education. Fundamentally, our education system differs from many places in the world in that it is not mainly provided by the government. In the face of the global financial crisis, many countries have greatly reduced their education spending. But because our schools are privately run, the school system was not hit too hard. More people came than left during the economic crisis, maintaining a natural growth. In the region, the demand for private education will rise. As GDP grows, more people will want to enroll their children in private schools.