Education is among the most important pillars to develop a sustainable environmental, and for economic and social development. As the Gulf Cooperation Countries look to diversify their economy and expand into a wide range of segments, the need for educated and skilled workforce is critical.

Data shows nearly 22 per cent of the population under the age of 24 years is residing in the GCC and the entire region is set to transition into their most productive years soon. A World Economic Forum Report says education and work in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will determine the livelihoods of over 300 million people and drive growth and development for generations to come.

Home to one of the youngest populations in the world, the GCC nations need to actively align their future goals with education strategy and investment in a future-ready generation.

A recent PwC survey says, “Young people entering the workforce in the MENA region are faced with one of the highest youth unemployment rates globally at around 30 per cent, a rate that has been worsening since 2012, particularly for young women.” Corporates too are questioning if the students passing out have the right skills for employment.

Today, education providers in the GCC states are grappling with fast-paced policy changes, recurring curriculum upgrades, upskilling teachers and advancing research in a web of challenges such as funding, student demands, and the ability to attract and retain top research and teaching talent.

- “Education providers in the six GCC states are grappling with fastpaced policy changes, recurring curriculum upgrades, upskilling teachers and advancing research”

GCC Education Report 2020 takes a look at the current structure and challenges faced by the Gulf nations. It also looks at the public and private players, innovation, emerging trends, key players and the future of this sector.
Let us first take a look at the education spending of the GCC states and how their overall vision is aligned to this critical human development index.

United Arab Emirates

In its 2019 Federal budget, the UAE allocated AED 10.25 billion or 17 per cent out of AED 60.3 billion to education development. In 2020, the state increased that spending to AED 10.4 billion, implying its continued focus on the sector.

Under its Vision 2021, UAE aims to see Emirati students rank among the best in the world. The country has also developed key performance indicators to realise a ‹First- Rate Education System.

The UAE Cabinet recently also established an Education Support Fund to encourage partnerships with the private sector and ensure sustainability of educational development programmes. The Ministerial Development Council is also currently reviewing a proposal for the preparation of a federal law on Higher Education, along with a number of other resolutions, initiatives and reports related to the government and the improvement of the institutions’ performance in various sectors in the Federal Government.

Saudi Arabia

A fundamental part of Saudi Vision 2030 program, which aims to build a thriving economy, is to improve the access and quality of education. Nearly 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s population is under 30 years old, making education and future job creation a crucial aspect.

The Kingdom, recognising the importance of investing in skilled generation, has allocated 193 billion Riyals or 16 per cent of its annual budget in 2020.

Traditionally, Saudi has been the biggest market for education services in the GCC region especially in the K-12 segment.

Several new private players have been entering the space in recent times.

Keeping up with the global trends, the country’s education system is also trying to move away from theoretical syllabus and gearing towards meeting the demands of the modern jobs market. Several community colleges are being now converted in to vocational training institutes.

The three chief organisations that oversee the operations of education market are the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation.


The Gulf nation allocated a total of 40 per cent of its annual public spending to education, healthcare, housing and social welfare in 2020 Budget. World Bank data suggest that the country spent 6.8492 per cent of its total GDP on education in 2017. The exact spending on education hasn’t been revealed by the nation. However, National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) claimed in 2018 that the Sultanate’s spending on primary and secondary education has gone up by 130 per cent over the last decade amid an increase in the number of students and teachers.

As the Sultanate undergoes a transitional period of moving away from an oildependent economy to diversification, educational reforms become critical. Under Oman’s National Strategy for Education 2040, a National Training Fund has been established to bridge the skills gap between education and job market needs through human capacity-building, and as part of the government’s policy to enhance the skills of Omani job-seekers.


In Bahrain, the education sector has largely benefitted from an expansion system where the rising number of school, universities and institutes target improving the quality across all levels. Unlike its other GCC counterparts, Bahrain doesn’t spend much on education. In 2017, the country spent 2.3272 per cent of total GDP on education, as per World Bank data.

Despite this, Bahrain has a high literacy rate of 95.7 per cent and also the highest female literacy rate of 93.5 per cent in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the country faces a gender disparity at the K-12 level along with a mismatch between job market requirements and skills offered.

Investment in education sector has been steadily rising in this country with a growing demand for private systems. Last decade saw many private and foreign players enter the domain from nursery level to postgraduate study including British University of Bahrain and the American University of Bahrain.

Bahrain is looking to do more to create and nurture a culture of innovative research that could, in turn, create new employment opportunities for the Kingdom’s residents in a variety of enterprises.


New Kuwait 2035 plan prioritises education reform and revitalisation as an important policy pillar. In 2018-19, the country allocated KD 2.2 billion to its Ministry of Education, up 22 per cent from the KD 1.8 billion in 2017-18. Education spending accounted for 11 per cent of the total annual budget of KD 20 billion in 2019.

Kuwait has adopted a two-pronged policy to reform education system: firstly, by introducing changes at public sector to improve national standards of teaching and student assessment; and secondly, allowing privatisation in education sector to meet the increasing demand for high quality education.

According to a Ken research study, Kuwait’s education market is expected to cross KD 917 million by 2022 as more private players enter the space with increasing tie-ups between the government universities. This shall be an emerging trend in Kuwait’s K-12, higher education and e-learning markets.

There is also a focus on enhancing vocational skills in Kuwaitis, who are expected to replace the expat workforce. As a result, training and technical institutions are witnessing tremendous expansion.


Middle East education market is expected to grow with a Compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 per cent from 2018 to 2023, with Saudi Arabia anticipated to have the highest share, followed by the UAE. The private education segment is expected to occupy the top position in Middle East education market.

A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), says the GCC K-12 private education market will touch $26 billion by 2023, offering excellent investment opportunities. Some of the key factors that make the region’s K-12 opportunity highly attractive are favourable government regulatory environments, affordability of quality education and thriving local and expat populations.

Across the GCC, the private education market is becoming a magnet for investors, and rightly so, as it is expected to double over the next five years.

Despite the fact that strong growth has been predicted across the region, investors must fine-tune their strategies to account for the shifting circumstances before committing to an investment opportunity.

With several emerging factors such as penetration of internet and digital setups, rise of working executives, the online education or e-learning markets expected to expand at a CAGR of 15.2 per cent from 2016 to 2023.

The UAE is expected to lead the online edumarket with a large presence of private players i.e. 65 per cent in the Middle-East. Saudi Arabia will also show a rapid growth due to governmental initiatives in education sector to improve the quality of education by adopting online education and e-learning.

MAINTAINING Education Standards: The GCC Solution

Emphasising on education quality, standards and proper accreditation can be the key in retaining talent in within the GCC market. A recent study by McKinsey points out that attracting and retaining the best people will be one of the key drivers for economy and business growth in 2020.

The overall demand for education remains healthy in the entire GCC region. But maintaining standard is becoming a critical issue for all the nations.

Some of the challenges faced by the industry are shortage of skilled teachers, which is expected to worsen with higher number of new schools opening in 2020, increased cost of operations, and bridging the gap between recent graduates and job skills required by the market.

Apart from regular school and universitylevel accreditation, GCC countries are coming up with their own ways to maintain the standard of education.

The UAE, for instance, is focusing on a new federal law on Higher Education to adjudge the improvement of the institutions’ performance. The Ministerial Development Council, which is reviewing the proposal, is targeting to develop the legislative frameworks for higher education institutions which enhances their performance and quality. The proposed law will give local entities regulating education sector “the flexibility to implement their role, in such a way as to achieve the desired complementarity in roles and requirements and to enhance coordination between federal and local authorities responsible for higher education.”

It further aims to improve educational systems to keep up with societal changes and exponential technologies and to enhance its quality and competitiveness. The law also aims to encourage scientific research, ensure institute’s effective governance and management in accordance with quality criteria of systems and programmes. It also stresses on the importance of applying uniform criteria for academic degrees classification and requirements for obtaining them.

Similarly, Saudi is focusing on providing fair and high-quality educational opportunities from an early age, and on internationalising children’s education. The Kingdom’s latest policies include ensuring equitable and comprehensive provision of quality education, improving the quality of teaching and learning, increasing funding for education and innovating its use. The country’s Education Evaluation Commission has prioritised national tests, in line with international exams, to standardise education in line with the rest of the world. These tests will also provide an accurate evaluation of the teaching standards and students’ learning capacity, critical to determining strengths and weaknesses in the curricula. Gulf countries are trying to address the issue of producing skilled labour by increasing the number of vocational training ceneres and nationalisation drives of individual governments to increase the share of locals in the private sector.


  1. King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Saudi Arabia
  2. King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), Saudi Arabia
  3. American University in the Middle East, Kuwait
  4. Khalifa University of Science and Technology, United Arab Emirates
  5. United Arab Emirates University, UAE
  6. King Saud University (KSU), Saudi Arabia
  7. King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Saudi Arabia
  8. American University of Sharjah, UAE
  9. Sultan Qaboos University, Oman
  10. King Khalid University, Saudi Arabia
  11. Umm Al-Qura University, Saudi Arabia
  12. Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU) (formerly UNIVERSITY OF DAMMAM), Saudi Arabia
  13. American University in Dubai, UAE
  14. University of Sharjah, UAE
  15. Zayed University, UAE
  16. Abu Dhabi University, UAE
  17. Ajman University, UAE
  18. King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia
  19. University of Bahrain, Bahrain
  20. Kuwait University, Kuwait


With every passing day, artificial intelligence or AI is becoming an important aspect in every facet of our lives. Stanford University’s recent study shows more and more students are enrolling in introductory AI and machine learning classes. LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report also puts ‘Artificial Intelligence Specialist’ as the top ranking emerging job, with 74 per cent annual growth over the past four years.

As AI and machine learning become more popular, the need for dedicated courses in school and colleges will only increase. Skills unique to the AI-related roles are Machine Learning, Deep Learning, TensorFlow, Python and Natural Language Processing.

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have both become synonymous with innovation, and our data shows that’s more than just buzz,” says LinkedIn.

“Hiring growth for this role has grown 74 per cent annually in the past 4 years and encompasses a few different titles within the space that all have a very specific set of skills despite being spread across industries, including artificial intelligence and machine learning engineer,” it adds.

Preparing its next generation for the future, Abu Dhabi launched the world’s first graduate-level AI university.

The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) in Abu Dhabi, is a research-based academic institution that offers specialised degree programmes for local and international students in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The university aims to support the advancement of scientific research, development, transfer, and use of Artificial Intelligence through the introduction of MSc and Ph.D. programmes that allow students to fulfill their intellectual potential in a state-of-theart environment.

Named after His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the AI university will introduce a new model of academia and research to the field of Artificial Intelligence. The establishment promises to provide students and faculty members with access to some of the world›s most advanced AI systems in existence.

The courses currently on offer at MBZUAI are:

  • PhD in Computer Vision
  • PhD in Machine Learning
  • MSc in Computer Vision
  • MSc in Machine Learning
From 2021, the university plans to PhD and MSc courses in Natural Language Processing. “The research-based AI university will bring the discipline of AI into the forefront, moulding and empowering creative pioneers who can lead us to a new AI empowered era,” said His Excellency Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State, who has been appointed Chair of the MBZUAI Board of Trustees.

In less than two weeks after the university’s launch was announced, MBZUAI received over 3,200 applications. All admitted students will get full scholarship, along with benefits such as a monthly allowance, health insurance and accommodation. There will also be partnerships with international and local firms to secure internships and help in jobs searches.

The university will open for students from September 2020. The launch of the world’s first AI university has caught international media attention, with many calling it a “milestone”. This future-ready approach of the UAE government has made sure that both the people of Emirates and GCC region as a whole are ready for tomorrow.


Founded in 1948, Strathclyde Business School is a socially progressive academic organisation within a leading international technological university. We are currently ranked in top 95 European Business School 2019 by Financial Times.

Strathclyde Business School is one of an elite group of business schools which hold triple international accreditation (AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB), and the Strathclyde MBA programme is also accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (CAA).

Throughout the course of its history, Strathclyde Business School’s pioneering and innovative outlook has led to a number of firsts including being the first UK B-school to offer a one year full-time MBA programme in 1966, and the first to offer a part-time MBA programme at its international centres (launched in South-East Asia in 1988).

The Strathclyde Executive MBA is offered at seven international centres; Dubai, Oman, Bahrain, Singapore, Malaysia, Greece and Switzerland and is taught part time over two years. With the exception of the mode of study, it is identical to the full-time MBA in the UK – the same entry criteria, programme content, assessment and core learning materials, and it is taught by the same Strathclyde academics who teach in Glasgow.

Teaching and learning is highly experiential and based on collaboration and teamwork. Through class discussions, presentations and group assignments, students share their varied work experiences, knowledge, understanding and skills.”

A particular strength of the programme is strategic management with three interrelated courses that culminate in a three-day Strategic Consulting in Practice workshop, where students undertake a real-life strategy assignment for a client. There are also options for international study.

With a wide range of specialist departments in the business school, Strathclyde offers over 20 different electives, and students can opt to take elective subjects at the Summer School in Glasgow or at any of the school’s international centres.

The Strathclyde MBA is a generalist MBA and students can expect to graduate with a broad understanding of the fundamentals of business and management issues, advanced management skills and techniques, self-awareness as a manager and leader and with increased confidence in all areas of business.


As universities across the GCC move ahead with the times, one of the main challenges they face is equipping the teachers to meet the challenges of the new curriculum.

A research conducted by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) revealed that almost half of school staff in Dubai admit they are only ‘just getting by’ while one in five pupils do not feel satisfied. The survey took into account views of over 13,522 staff members, from principals and teachers to assistants and support staff, across 181 schools.

The survey further found that 43 per cent of adults in schools were just getting by or just functionin›, with five per cent conceding they were struggling. There was an age divide, with older members of staff, in the 55 and over group, happier than those aged 24 to 54.

The challenges faced by the teachers include lack of adequate opportunities to learn, grow and develop professionally. Similar issues were also found at higher education level, where educators grapple with career progress and other challenges. Schools and universities are coming up with their own methods to cope with these issues. Murdoch University Dubai, located at the heart of the Dubai International Academic City, claims to constantly reinvent itself, implementing a continuous cycle of professional development for the teaching staff, to keep up with the changing times.

A large cohort of the university’s teaching staff are completing the Learning and Teaching Certificate, which leads to fellowship status with Advance HE in the UK. The university is also offering full-tuition scholarships for PhD studies (for full-time teaching staff).

The varsity also has a continuous cycle of professional development for teaching staff. The Murdoch Dubai Learning and Teaching Committee, composed of teaching staff from Dubai, provides support and workshops available to all teaching staff.

Saudi Arabia too is pushing for improving the quality of teaching and learning, increasing funding for education and innovating its use. In July 2019, the Kingdom introduced a teacher certification license along with a new salary structure which is obtainable if an individual passes certain criterion as well as the exam for the license. This system aims to raise the standards of the country’s educational system and uplift teachers who are at the core of the education system.

The shortage of teachers in the region is among the highest in the world. Studies say international schools in the UAE will need over 14,000 teachers over the next three years while Saudi needs 183,600 teachers by 2030. Lack of qualified educators will pose further problems.


The University of Manchester launched the Middle East Centre and the flagship Manchester Global part-time MBA programme, at Dubai Knowledge Park, United Arab Emirates, in 2006. Today, the Middle East Centre is the largest and fastest growing in the University’s international network of centres in key cities around the world, comprising Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Manchester.

Since 2006, the centre has supported over 2,700 part-time MBA students – all highly qualified and experienced working professionals - and developed a community of 2,700 alumni across the region, creating professional networking and other opportunities in collaboration with the wider business community to help enrich the learning experience. The centre has graduated around 1,700 MBA students. The University of Manchester was the winner of the ‘Best MBA Program’ award at the inaugural Forbes Middle East Higher Education Awards 2019, and was awarded a 5-star overall rating in the Knowledge & Human Development Authority’s new classification of higher education institutions in Dubai.

The University also continues to move higher in a range of recent ranking announcements, confirming its status as one of the world’s top universities, focusing on the quality of teaching, research and social responsibility. The QS World University Ranking now lists Manchester as the world’s 27th best university and among the very top global institutions.

In the Middle East, the University has managed a flexible and dynamic portfolio of learning programmes that is reviewed regularly and the university is committed to creating access to world-class blended learning opportunities designed to meet the needs of working professionals. In 2020, the centre will launch new part-time Masters programmes in Real Estate, and Educational Leadership in Practice.

The Middle East Centre works in a range of collaborations with professional bodies and industry groups in the region and has forged close partnerships with a range of leading public and private sector organisations through the University’s Strategic Talent Partnership programme.


With stunning architecture and a rich history dating back to the 13th century, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is a multidisciplinary university that attracts high-calibre students from the UAE and around the world.

SUAD offers world-class, globally recognised and UAE accredited French degrees that cover a spectrum of disciplines specialising in sciences, humanities, languages, law and economics degrees to address local and global job market demands.

To date, we have educated over 2000 graduates from more than 90 countries, while developing a reputation for academic excellence and innovation.

To ensure quality, we maintain small classes, enabling us to tailor our teaching methods to individual styles of learning. We also bring our faculty from Sorbonne University in Paris, guaranteeing the same excellent teaching standards as our parent institution. In addition, our admissions process is highly selective, ensuring that individual talent benefits from collective excellence.

We offer Foundation Year programmes in Intensive French and Sciences, in addition to 5 executive education programmes, 10 undergraduate and 12 postgraduate degree programmes. Programmes are offered in French, English and Arabic. A number of scholarships, preferential rates and corporate discounts on tuition fees are available to UAE citizens, residents of the UAE and international students.

Newly appointed Vice Chancellor, Professor Silvia Serrano said, “I am honoured and delighted to join Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi as Executive Director, and look forward to supporting the scientific and academic advancement of Abu Dhabi, the UAE, the Gulf region and the Arab world.”

She added, “I feel proud to take on the tasks of managing a university that is distinguished by its leading reputation and academic standing. Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi’s ability to offer varied areas of specialisations that serve sustainable development and the national economy of the UAE and the rest of the world is unparalleled, and I will continue my efforts to achieve success for the university and create tremendous opportunities for students to obtain a quality education.”