Dubai's blossoming education sector offers opportunities for students to study a range of international curricula.

Peter Hill
Dubai College
Fiona Cottam
Principal & CEO
Jumeirah College

What is the history of Dubai College?

PETER HILL Dubai College was set up by the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Al Maktoum, who was the ruler of Dubai. We started in a pair of villas in 1978. We were then gifted this land in an area that was nothing but desert. We started building around 1980 and occupied the first two buildings of the school in 1982. Since then we have developed the school slowly by extending it almost every year. We now have a very comprehensive school with resources probably as good as any other top school in the world. We are a non-profit school, and any surplus that we have at the end of year goes straight back into the school for development and curriculum works. We charge fees that have to be approved by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). We have followed a refined and reformed version of the English national curriculum at Key Stage 3 (KS3). In terms of the selection, we have approximately 450 applicants for 132 places in Year 7. Our GCSE results place us in 35th position in terms of all the schools in the UK. In terms of our A-level results we come in around 60th. We are a very high-performing school and are a member of the Head Masters Conference (HMC) for schools in the UK. We also place great importance on co-curricular programs, especially in sports, drama, and music, which we think are very important educationally. Approximately 65% of the student population is British, but we also have 40 other nationalities represented.

What do you think makes Dubai's education sector so attractive?

FIONA COTTAM It is the diversity of the population. Such a large percentage of the population is not native, so we are mostly visitors. Yet, people are trying to create their own sense of cultural identity within this community. For the British community, for example, there are a lot of British curriculum schools. It is the same for the Indian community and the American community. I think it helps for each of us to establish our bases and provide the expertise that we need. This is a unique melting pot of different cultures.

According to a recent report by Booz & Co, the private school sector in the Gulf is predicted to grow three fold over the next decade. What do you think the potential for growth is in Dubai?

PH In terms of a market for primary schools, there is, in supply and demand terms, a huge market. What the profit-making schools are concerned about at the moment is that they have limited incentive to establish new schools because of the fee freeze. However, one way around that is when establishing a new school you are not affected by the fee freeze. You can set your own starting fee, within reason, and then you can go on from there. The interesting thing is that there are more franchising schools coming out to the region. We already have Repton School, which is now an established successful school in Dubai. Brighton College also just opened in Abu Dhabi. However, what is interesting at the moment is that they seem to be moving down the road to Abu Dhabi rather than to Dubai. They find the ability to expand in terms of facilitates very much restricted here. As a non-profit school, we rely purely on an annual fee.

We have a five-year development plan that is not presently being driven by building infrastructure. It is being driven in terms of learning. We just don't have the money to develop any further at the moment—until we are allowed to develop in terms of market forces, we can't go anywhere. The supply and demand is there, but it is not a free market in that way and with our fees.

One never really knows what inflation is in the UAE; it always seems to be very low, but all I know is that ever since we have had a freeze on our fees, costs have been going up around us, such as for food, maintenance, and energy.

FC There are over a 100 private schools in Dubai. We have seen the growth directly as a company, as we opened a brand new school in September 2011. Six months ago, it did not have any students enrolled. The day that it opened it had nearly 1,200. That shows both the desire from parents for high-quality education and also the very transient nature of Dubai. It is developing, from our perspective, as a hub where many families base their children while one part of the partnership perhaps works elsewhere. That is driven not just by transportation systems, but also its closeness in terms of the Far East and yet its proximity to Europe at that halfway point. You can see why it has got the potential to grow even further when you look at how much it has grown in the last five to 10 years.