Nov. 2, 2018

Dr. Abdulla Al Karam

UAE, Dubai

Dr. Abdulla Al Karam

Chairman & Director General, the Board of Directors & Dubai Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA)

TBY talks to Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors & Director General of Dubai Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA), on increasing supply to meet demand, investing in infrastructure, and driving innovation and entrepreneurship.


Dr. Abdulla Al Karam is responsible for the quality and growth of Dubai’s private education sector, including early learning centers, schools, universities, and training institutes. Dr. Al Karam is a board member of the National Qualifications Authority of the UAE Federal Government, as well as United Arab Emirates University. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Dubai Future Foundation and the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences. He began his career as a software engineer in the US and France. Dr. Al Karam holds a PhD in computer engineering from the University of South Carolina.

How is the education landscape in Dubai developing?

The development of education in Dubai has been both a social and an economic development agenda for us. KHDA started 10 years ago with a focus on quality, access, and community engagement. In the last five to six years, around 60 schools have opened their doors, with a record of 15 in 2017. As capacity increases, quality improves and the marketplace gives more value to parents. On the engagement level, we have been working with schools to engage them not only with KHDA but also with each other. These are schools with 17 different curriculums and teachers from 120 nations around the world, and Dubai is a great platform for collaboration in education. KHDA meets with schools, universities, training centers, and investors around the world to share Dubai's progress and to encourage them to be a part of that. We discuss the education systems and what Dubai can offer them, and we explain the processes involved in establishing themselves here. We work hand-in-hand with these investors to share market data, trends, and future forecasts, as well as support them to refine their business plans. Then, we proceed with the permission to open. As more schools open up, quality will improve even further.

What are the main trends and developments that are further shaping the education sector?

Technology has had an enormous impact on almost all industries, and when it comes to the social sectors like health, education, and social services, we are still in the beginning phase. Children are deeply involved in technology and the system is playing catch-up. We do not know yet what role disruptive developments will play, though I expect disruption to come from outside the system and will be mainly driven by the learners themselves.

How do you assess the need for investment in the infrastructure of Dubai's education system, both in terms of facilities and human capital?

In 2017, 15 schools opened, and we are looking at 12 more schools in 2018. Both local and international universities are also opening here. In 2018, we added two universities to our international list: Curtin University from Australia and the University of Birmingham from the UK. Our system is extremely international, and our teachers come to Dubai from many different places, the usual ones being India, the UK, Arab countries, and Europe. Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai are the preferred places for international teachers, with Dubai having the biggest demand and attracting the best teachers. The infrastructure of Dubai's education system, both in terms of facilities and staff, is improving every year. The rapid growth of Dubai's education system is not based on government investment, like in many other places. On the contrary, investors invest in schools and continue to establish new ones. They are looking at what the city is gearing up for: the huge investments in infrastructure and the Emirate's ambitious vision. They see it is attractive to invest in education to keep up with future demand.

How can the education system become a better foundation for innovative entrepreneurship?

The system of today is a system that trains students for a life full of tests, but we are looking for an approach that prepares students for the tests of life. This is where well-being becomes important; it is great if students are passing science and mathematics exams—but what happens when they start work and university and they come up against failure? What personal resources do they have that they can call upon when they feel lonely or stressed, and how do our children learn to live in harmony with each other? Our current education sector should be able to answer such questions to make sure that we are really giving our children the best start in life.