Education Cluster in the United Arab Emirates

The government of the United Arab Emirates has been keen on diversifying its economy to reduce its reliance on the oil and gas sector. One of the clusters that the government has given special attention to is the education sector. As Yates (2020) explains, the ability of a country to strengthen its economy with the help of emerging technologies depends on the quality of its workforce. For a long time, the government has been sponsoring learners to pursue higher education in Europe and North America.

However, the government has made a significant investment in this sector, making it possible for students to have access to high-quality education without the need to rely on institutions out of the country. In this study, the focus is to analyze the competitiveness of the country’s educational sector with the aim of identifying specific weaknesses that still exist and how they can be addressed by different stakeholders. The analysis uses various analytical models to assess both internal and external environments in the sector before developing policy recommendations that can help the stakeholders to ensure that intended goals are realized.

Country Profile of the UAE

The analysis of the country’s education sector requires an assessment of the country’s profile. The United Arab Emirates, often referred to as the Emirates or the UAE, is a country within the Arabian Peninsula that borders Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, and Qatar (Yudkevich, Altbach, and Wit, 2020). The federation consists of seven emirates. Abu Dhabi is the largest emirates and is also the country’s capital. Dubai is the most populated emirates, which also acts as the economic hub. Others include Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Al Khaimah (Ginsberg and Lippard, 2020). The country gained its independence from the colonial rule of the United Kingdom in 1971. The country’s population is estimated to be 9.89 million people, with almost 80% of the population being expatriates working in different sectors of the economy.

As a constitutional monarch, the country is governed by Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan who is the emir of Abu Dhabi and the de jure president of the UAE. He governs the country through a federal government, though individual emirates are semi-autonomous. The majority of the country’s population (76%) are Muslims. Christians form the largest minority religious group at 13% (Moghazy, 2021). Other major religious practices include Hinduism and Buddhism. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the financial year that ended in 2020 was USD 647.65.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains the largest economy in the region, the UAE has registered impressive economic growth over the past two decades. Munyi, Mwambari, and Ylönen (2020) observe that the country has outperformed others in the region in terms of diversifying its economy. Dubai is currently one of the world’s leading tourists’ destination. It is also a major economic hub in the world. The country’s education sector has also gone through a major transformation within the same period.

Economic Performance of the UAE

The government of the United Arab Emirates has been keen on strengthening its economy to enhance its competitiveness in the region. According to Chowdhury and Irudaya (2018), the UAE, like many other countries in the region, is a major exporter of oil. However, the government has been keen on strengthening other sectors of the economy. Although the country’s GDP has been increasing consistently over the years, it is important to note that the growth rate has been slowing from 2008.

Kamøy (2021) explains that the country has not fully recovered from the 2008 global economic recession. As shown in figure 1 below, although the GDP is growing, the rate of growth has been consistently going down from 2012. In 2011, it was slightly more than 6%, by 2018, it had dropped to about 1%. The 2019 COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact as it the rate shrunk to negative digits in 2020, which means that the GDP had a negative growth. It is projected that the economy will recover in 2021.

The UAE’s Economic Growth Rate
Figure 1. The UAE’s Economic Growth Rate (Kamøy, 2021, p. 76).

The country has been heavily relying on the oil and gas sector to support its economy, just like many other countries in the region. As shown in figure 2 below, in 2010, the oil and gas sector was the largest source of revenue for the country, surpassing other sectors of the economy combined. The same trend was witnessed in 2012. However, the benefits of diversification efforts of the country started emerging in 2012 when for the first time, the non-oil sector emerged as the largest income earner. The trend continued in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The figure shows that the oil sector’s income has been dropping significantly as the non-oil sector continues to grow.

Sectorial Contribution to the UAE’s Economy
Figure 2. Sectorial Contribution to the UAE’s Economy (Dressman and Sadler, 2020, p. 88).

It is important to assess economic sectors that have emerged as the most important pillars of the country’s economy besides the oil and gas sector. As shown in figure 3 below, the real estate sector has emerged as one of the most important drivers of the country’s economy. From 2016 to 2017, the sector experienced major growth, though it dropped in 2018. The logistics sector has also emerged as a major driver of the economy, registering consistent growth within the period stated above. The country is a major transit hub for large vessels from Asia to Africa and the rest of the world. Tourism is another top income earner for the country.

However, the figure shows that its growth has been erratic. Other major sectors of the economy include trade, finance, and construction. The educational sector has also registered impressive growth in the country (Al and Soto, 2016). As the government continues to invest in public education, private players have also had the opportunity to tap into the existing opportunity in the country.

Sectorial Growth in Dubai
Figure 3. Sectorial Growth in Dubai (Tilak, 2020).

Assessment of National Competitiveness of the UAE in the Region

It is necessary to conduct an assessment of the national competitiveness of the UAE in the region. Although the regional countries have been working as a unit through various regional blocks, individual countries understand the fact that there is a form of competition to attract foreign investors and expatriates (Adel, Elsawy and Ahmed, 2019). These foreigners often compare opportunities that each country has to offer before selecting the country in which to settle. Being competitive in specific sectors also means that such a country can influence regional policies in that area. For instance, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has remained globally influential in international policies relating to the oil and gas sector because it is the world’s largest producer and exporter of the product.

Figure 4 below shows a comparative analysis of different countries on various performance indices. As explained in the graph, a high rank indicates poor performance. It means that in terms of human development, the United Arab Emirates registered the best performance ahead of regional countries such as Oman, Lebanon, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Lebanon is the most corrupt country in the region followed by Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Once again, the UAE emerged as the best, being the least corrupt country in the region. In terms of the ease of doing business, Lebanon once again emerged as the worst among the sampled countries within the region. Saudi Arabia outperformed the rest, followed by the UAE. The economic freedom index identified Lebanon as the worst country in the region. Once again, Saudi Arabia emerged as the best country followed by the UAE. The last index was the freedom of the press. As shown in the figure below, Bahrain had the worst score, followed by Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates emerged as the best in terms of press freedom. On average, the UAE emerged as the best-performing country among those that were sampled, followed by Saudi Arabia, while Lebanon emerged as the worst.

A Comparative Analysis of Countries Based on Different Indices
Figure 4. A Comparative Analysis of Countries Based on Different Indices (Gallagher, 2019, p. 78).

The comparative analysis conducted above shows that the UAE has been keen on creating an enabling environment for trade and development. The government has been fighting corruption as a vice that may have negative implications on its educational sector. At the same time, it has emerged as the best in the human development index, which includes factors such as good health, quality education, and gainful employment. The government believes that the growth of the country’s socio-economic sector depends on the freedom of the press (Blake, 2016). Although it has policies meant to regulate the media, it has created an environment where journalists can work without any fear of reprisals from the government.

Overall Educational Environment and Policy in the UAE

The United Nations outlined 17 objectives that every country should achieve as part of their sustainable development goals (SDGs). The fourth objective is quality education for everyone. The United Arab Emirates has been keen on embracing this specific objective as a way of empowering individual citizens and promoting economic growth. The educational environment in the country has been redefined over the recent past by various policies meant to facilitate rapid transformation. In this section, the focus is to discuss these policies and how they have affected the growth of this sector.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is one of the factors that can be used to assess the financial health of a country’s economy. The UAE is leading other countries in the region, according to a report by (Ginsberg and Lippard, 2020). The real estate, tourism, and education sectors are some of the industries that have continued to attract foreign investors into the country.

National Education Policies

When the UAE gained its independence in 1971, the level of illiteracy among adults was one of the highest in the world. However, numerous policies that the government has introduced, making education compulsory for all, have reduced the illiteracy level among adults to less than 1%, making it one of the lowest in the world. This impressive success has been achieved because of the commitment of the government and other stakeholders in the field of education to ensure that every citizen in the country has access to education. The following are some of the major policies that have helped in transforming the education sector in the country.

The Ministry of Education’s strategy 2017-2021 was meant to promote creativity and innovation among leaders of different ages. The policy was based on research that found out that a number of graduates from local universities lack practical skills needed in the job market. Most of them were also not as creative as their employers needed them to be. As such, the government considered it necessary to promote creativity among students at the earliest stage of their education possible. The policy was also meant to promote equality and justice for all learners, accountability and transparency among educational stakeholders, and values and principles of Islam. It has forced the government to increase its spending on education. As shown in figure 5 below, the UAE spends 21% of its total budget on education, which is one of the highest in the region.

Government Spending on Education in the MENA Region
Figure 5. Government Spending on Education in the MENA Region (Blaemire, 2019, p. 71).

Teacher and Educational Leadership Standards (TELS UAE) and Licensing Programme of 2017-2021 is another policy issue that has had an immense impact on the country. For a long time, the Ministry of Education granted most of the expatriates teaching licenses as long as they proved that they were qualified teachers with a license from specific countries (Affleck, 2018). However, the ministry decided that it was necessary to subject these teachers to a test to ascertain that they have specific skills before they can be allowed to teach in private and public schools.

The policy created the National Qualification Authority within the Ministry of Education to administer these exams before granting teaching licenses to the applicants. The first step towards enhancing the quality of education in the country is to ensure that teachers have the right skills needed to impart knowledge in the 21st century.

The Education 2020 strategy is a five-year plan introduced by the Ministry of Education meant to transform K-12 programs in the country. Dubbed smart-learning, the program is geared towards redefining the capacity of students leaving high schools to ensure that they can join any institution of higher learning in the world. It places emphasis on English and Math as some of the primary subjects critical for students joining international universities. It was based on the research that found out that many international students in Europe and North America struggle in the two subjects. The policy is meant to ensure that local students do not face similar challenges.

Macroeconomic Competitiveness

The macroeconomic competitiveness of the educational sector in the country has been enhanced by the policies discussed above and many others meant to improve the sector. The government of the UAE has created an environment where private sector players can flourish in the business of education. The impressive economic growth and the growing tolerance towards racial and religious diversity have improved the attractiveness of the industry.

The outcome of such an enabling business environment is that many learning institutions have sprung up across the country. The sector has become highly competitive within the region as numerous public and private players compete for the same market. When competition is stiff within a given industry in a specific country, every firm will struggle to offer the best quality products. As they compete on the premise of quality, standards within the industry also improve significantly. The improved standards of education have enhanced the competitiveness of the educational sector in the country.

The National Education Environment

The national education environment in the United Arab Emirates has gone through various faces over the past five decades. When the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom, its education relied heavily on the colonial system. The curriculum was based on what the colonial powers had developed and for almost a decade, stakeholders in the industry did little to change it (Aspinall and Porter, 2020). However, some weaknesses started to emerge as the system failed to address some local challenges that were unique to the country. As the country became a major exporter of oil and gas to the international market, there were enough resources to facilitate research and support the development of a system that is based on local challenges.

During the period of late 1980s and 1990s, there was a growing resentment of the United States, and the west in general, among the Arab countries, especially for its continued support of Israel (Baroudi and Arulraj, 2019). Many countries within the region made an effort to redefine their curriculum to reflect the local environment. Cases of racial and religious intolerance became increasingly common in the entire region. Most of the people in the global considered the region as politically unstable and insecure. Oil and gas were considered the only valuable products that could attract a few international investors, mostly large corporations such as ExxonMobil and British Petroleum.

The perception of the region started changing in the late 1990s when regional leaders realized the need to embrace globalization. The UAE realized that it needed to reform its education system to empower its citizens. It started by improving the infrastructure in the transport sector, schools, and security systems among others. It then created a national education environment that is supportive of the transformation of the sector through various policies. The government empowered local private sector players to start successful private schools to meet the demand gap left by public institutions. It has also made it possible for foreign investors to take advantage of the existing and emerging opportunities in this sector.

Institutions for Collaboration

Educational institutions play a critical role in enhancing sustainable economic growth within a country. According to Andriukaitienė et al. (2017), institutions of higher learning are expected to solve socio-economic and political challenges that a country faces through regular research. As such, the government of the UAE has been promoting collaboration amongst individual learning institutions and with both private and public sector players. The government has also made it possible for the local learning institutions to partner with international schools and colleges through exchange programs and other initiatives to facilitate sharing of knowledge.

One such institution that have perfected such partnerships and collaborations is United Arab Emirates University. It has a partnership with Etisalat, the country’s largest telecommunication company, to train its staff and to facilitate research. It collaborates with Zayed University and Higher Colleges of Technology in research and development in different fields. The management also announced the partnership it has with Judicial Training Institute. These collaborations enable the university to broaden its scope and to ensure that it participates in research and development. It also enables the institution to empower its learners with practical skills needed on the job market.

Porter’s Diamond Model

Porter’s diamond model has widely been used to assess the attractiveness of a country in the international market. As shown in figure 6 below, assesses these competitive advantages based on four factors. The first is identified as factor conditions, which refers to natural resources, the infrastructure, and the labor force. The UAE is one of the leading producers and exporters of oil and gas in the international market. This natural resource provides it with the financial resource it needs to support the education sector. The government has invested heavily in developing its infrastructure. Dubai Metro is one of the most advanced railway systems in the world.

The road infrastructure has also gone through impressive development over the past two decades. It makes it for the business community to ensure that people and products can move easily. The infrastructure in public schools has also been upgraded to meet international standards. Private schools have to meet specific standards in infrastructural development to get the needed approval by the Ministry of Education (Zhang, 2019). In terms of the labor force, the country still relies significantly on expatriates to work on its different sectors of the economy. The majority of Emiratis have higher education qualifications. However, some do not prefer working in the education sector, forcing the government to rely on experts from other countries.

Firm strategy, structure, and rivalry are the other factors that define a country’s business environment’s competitiveness at an international level. Moghazy (2021) explains that when different firms are operating in the same market, the competitive rivalry will become stiff. In such a case, every firm will be forced to develop unique strategies to manage competition and attract a pool of loyal customers. In the UAE’s education sector, competition has been getting increasingly stiff because of the rapid growth of the private school sector. The government has also been upgrading or building new public schools to meet the demand.

In such an environment, local educational institutions, both public and private, have been keen on embracing unique strategies to manage the competition. At the core of their strategies is the need to ensure that they offer the best value to their customers. Calk and Patrick (2017) observe that as firms compete on the premise of quality, the overall competitiveness of the industry within the country increases. It explains why the UAE currently has one of the best education standards in the world.

Demand conditions also play a critical role in defining the competitiveness of an industry within a given country. The demand pressure that customers place on a firm defines the quality of products that they deliver (Bennett and Murakami, 2016). When customers are relaxed in terms of the quality they expect from a given industry, then the competitive premise shifts to pricing instead of quality.

In the UAE, there has been a consistent demand for high-quality services in the education sector. The government has already set the standards by defining minimum standards that have to be met. As students and parents have various options to make when choosing the appropriate school, quality is always at the forefront. The impact is that the sector has come to value quality because it is what customers demand. These forces have facilitated the continued improvement of education standards in the country over the years. It is currently one of the best in the region.

The last aspect of this analysis is related and supporting industries. Supporting and related industries to the education sector have facilitated the growth of the sector. One such industry is the publishing industry. Cimatti (2016) explains that the UAE has one of the most advanced publishing sectors in North Africa and Middle East (MENA) region. It has made it possible for authors to publish their books with ease. Technology has also emerged as one of the most important supporting industries to the education sector. Most of the data is moving from analogue to digital platforms. Instead of physical libraries, e-libraries have gained massive popularity in the country. It has made it easy for learners to have access to materials they need at any time and irrespective of their location.

The improved transport sector has also promoted the competitiveness of the country’s education sector. It is now possible for students and teachers to move from one part of the country to another within the shortest time possible using the various means of transport. Traveling to school and back home has been made easier in the country. Improved security is another benefit that enhances the competitiveness of the country’s education. Students and teachers are assured of their security because of systems and structures that the government has put in place.

Porter’s Diamond Model
Figure 6. Porter’s Diamond Model (Gallagher, 2019, p. 76).

Key Competitiveness Issues in UAE’s Education Sector

The analysis of the education sector in the UAE has identified key competitive issues in the UAE. One of the key issues that come out is the commitment of the government to promote the growth of the industry. It has strengthened the sector, especially over the past two decades. Competition among local players is also emerging as a positive factor that is promoting the overall competitiveness of the industry. Supporting sectors such as the publishing industry, the transport infrastructure, the security sector, and the technology sector have all enhanced competitiveness of the country’s education sector. They have enabled the sector to become one of the most competitive ones in the region.

National Education Cluster Profile

The education sector in the United Arab Emirates has gone through various stages of development over the past two decades. Conducting a national education cluster profile for the country makes it possible to understand the transformation and some of the possible weaknesses that still exist in the industry. This sector provides a detailed analysis of the historical evolution, the value chain cluster map, assessment of cluster competitiveness, external analysis, industry-specific analysis, and internal analysis.

Historical Evolution

The education sector in the UAE has gone through a massive transition, from the time when it purely focused on madrasas to the modern society where teaching of Islamic values and principles are deeply entrenched in formal education. During the colonial era, the UAE, just like many other countries in the region, was forced to embrace formal education. When the country gained its independence, the country maintained this form of education but also introduced madrasas to help teach and entrench Islamic principles (Bhabha, Kanics and Senovilla, 2018).

Educationists and other stakeholders in the sector started questioning the system and its effectiveness in preparing young Emiratis for a better future. As Affleck (2018) observes, it emerged that the system was effective in creating employees, especially those meant to work in large factories. In the 1990s, the curriculum was subjected to major reforms to make it more suitable in empowering learners in different fields. The country currently uses a hybrid system of education that has been borrowed from different parts of the world and designed to meet local needs. Technology is currently one of the main drivers of the evolution in this sector.

According to Fernández-Aráoz, Roscoe and Aramaki (2017), policies of the education sector were traditionally designed by a select committee of experts, especially in the 1990s when some of the major changes were made to the system that was left by the colonial power. However, the government has come to appreciate the need to involve all stakeholders, including parents and teachers, when making major curriculum changes. There has been a need to ensure that as the country embraces globalization and technology in the education sector, cultural norms and practices should not be ignored. As the curriculum continues to change, Islamic teachings and practices have remained deeply entrenched into the system

Value Chain and Cluster Map

When assessing the national education cluster profile, a perceptual map may help in comparing the country’s education sector with that of the neighboring countries. Figure 7 below shows the map, which uses two variables, cost and quality, to compare the education sector in the sampled countries. It is evident that Lebanon has the cheapest education sector. However, it also has the worst quality among the sampled nations. When a product is cheap, Blaemire (2019) notes that the quality is likely to be compromised. It must be the case in Lebanon. On the other hand, the UAE has the most expensive education sector. It emerges that it also offers the best quality. Players in the industry can afford to invest more in research and development because of the high profits that they make.

Perceptual Map.
Figure 7. Perceptual Map.

Assessment of Cluster Competitiveness

The analysis conducted above shows that the UAE’s education sector is one of the most competitive ones in the region. The government has made heavy investment in improving the infrastructure of public schools. The competitiveness of government-owned learning institutions has put pressure on private schools to improve their standards. During this period of COVID-19 pandemic, learning in both public and private institutions has moved to the online platforms. As shown in figure 8 below, there has been a consistent increase in the number of learners who can access internet regularly. The statistics show that there has been a consistent increase in internet user penetration in the country from 2013 to 2019. The ease with which students and teachers in both public and private schools can have access to stable internet connectivity has facilitated online learning in the country.

Number of Learners with Access to the Internet
Figure 8. Number of Learners with Access to the Internet (Blaemire, 2019, p. 52).

PESTLE Analysis

The analysis of the national educational cluster will need the PESTEL model to understand the external environmental forces that directly or indirectly affect the environment. When enacting policies needed to create growth in this sector, it is important for the stakeholders to understand different forces that affect the implementation process (Fazel and Betancourt, 2018). Understanding these forces makes it possible to develop plans that can counter negative factors while at the same time taking advantage of the positive ones. This model identifies the political, economic, social, technological, ecological, and legal forces that directly influence the country’s educational sector.

The political environment in the UAE has been sustainable since the country gained its independence. Moghazy (2021) explains that the country embraced a constitutional monarch, just like many other regional countries. This approach to governance has worked well for the country. It has ensured that there is regime continuity, which is often lacking in democratic nations where new leaders have to be elected after a period of 4 or 5 years. The rulers of this country have created an environment where people can express their views without the fear of being targeted by government instruments.

During the Arab Spring that started in 2010, there was the fear that the monarchy would be destroyed as was witnessed in many countries within the MENA region where there were clamors for democracy. However, the regime proved that the political leadership in the country was strong, firmly in control, and keen on understanding and addressing the concerns of its citizens. The country was one of the least affected nations by the revolution. The only challenge that the country faced was the need to host hundreds of thousands of refugees from the region who were victims of the revolution (Tallón-Ballesteros and Chen, 2020). Such a stable political environment is critical for the growth and development of the education sector. Stakeholders are assured that their policies can be implemented in a stable economic environment.

The economic environment is another major factor that defines the development of the education sector. According to Farrington, Kazemian, and Piquero (2019), effective implementation of educational policies depends on the economic situation in a given country. The economy of the UAE has been growing steadily over the past two decades. Figure 9 below shows the level of economic diversity in the country.

The efforts by the government to diversify its economy have been immensely successful. Currently, real estate, tourism, trade, and finance are some of the major sectors of the economy that support the oil and gas industry (Williams and McDonald, 2018). The impressive growth of the economy has enabled the government to make a significant investment in the educational sector. Both the federal and local governments have been supporting the educational sector in different capacities.

Kamøy (2021) observes that there has been a program running across the country to modernize schools. Institutions of higher learning have benefited from the program, especially in terms of infrastructural development and staffing. Some of these institutions can now afford to hire expatriates who can help develop local human capital. The booming economy has also enabled private sector schools to grow because many people can afford to pay the needed costs.

Economic Diversity in Dubai, UAE.
Figure 9. Economic Diversity in Dubai, UAE (Aspinall and Porter, 2020, p. 86).

The social environment also influences developmental programs in the education sector. Issues such as religious tolerance, social policies, and the management of diversity are factors that define human relations. As was explained in the country profile analysis above, over 80% of the residents of the UAE are foreigners. Most of them come from Asia and Africa. A significant number also come from Europe and North America (Rajesh, 2017).

It means that although it is an Islamic country, some of these expatriates may belong to other religious groups. The government has made a concerted effort to create an enabling environment for everyone irrespective of their religious groups. Some of the restrictive Islamic teachings have been relaxed, especially for tourists who want to enjoy various amenities around the country. Society has embraced education as a means of empowering themselves and ensuring that they can compete favorably in the international labor market. A trend has emerged in the country where parents are willing to pay high school fees for their children in private schools. The government has also made schooling in public institutions free, a move that has popularized education even further. The desire of the younger generation to embrace some aspects of the western culture has also strengthened the sector further.

Technology can no longer be ignored in the educational sector. Although sometimes it can be disruptive, Levy, Ramim and Hackney (2013) explain that technology has created massive changes in the education sector. Online learning is one of the main areas where technology has emerged as an important tool. The use of brick-and-mortar system of learning where students have to interact with teachers in a physical classroom setting has remained popular for decades.

However, when COVID-19 struck the global community in 2020, it became evident that technology offers infinity opportunities in the educational sector. Most schools shifted to the online learning platform because of the inability of people to gather in a classroom setting. Digital learning materials are also replacing traditional materials such as physical books. Many institutions are even administering their exams through online platforms. These technologies have made education more accessible and cheaper to learners than it was before (Rains, 2020). The ability of learners to engage themselves in research has also been enhanced. The government of the UAE has been supporting these technological advancements in the educational sector because it understands their significance.

Ecological forces have continued to have major consequences on decisions that stakeholders in different sectors of the economy make. The global community has realized that issues about environmental conservation cannot be ignored any longer. The consequences of global warming and climate change have been felt all over the world. Prolonged drought in Africa and parts of Asia, flooding in North America, cyclones in parts of Europe and Asia are some of the effects of climate change.

The UAE has been keen on implementing policies meant to protect the environment. Many learning institutions are now expected to plant trees within their compounds as part of the initiative to improve the country’s vegetative cover (Kumar, 2020). Shifting some classes from physical classrooms to online platforms is another trend meant to reduce pressure on the natural environment. Institutions of higher learning are also expected to participate in the research meant to reduce environmental pollution and to protect the environment in various respects.

The last factor in this model is the legal environment. Laws and regulations that a government enacts define the developmental path that a given sector takes. The government of the UAE has made basic education mandatory for all its citizens. This law has created an environment conducive to the growth of education. Public schools are free for citizens of the country. However, parents are at liberty to take their children to private schools (Kamøy, 2021).

The country has also made it possible for these private institutions to operate in the country with ease (Eruyar, Huemer, and Vostanis, 2018). It explains why a city like Dubai and Sharjah has experienced a massive increase in private international schools owned by foreigners. The diversity of the education sector has also been made possible because of these laws. The outcome is an educational environment that is progressive and committed to meeting international standards.

SWOT Analysis

The analysis using the PESTEL model makes it possible to understand the external environmental forces that affect the normal operations and the success of a firm. When the focus is narrowed to internal forces, a SWOT analysis becomes a critical tool. One of the main strengths of the local education sector is its attractiveness to the international community. The investments that the government has made in improving local education have enhanced quality in the sector. Students within the Middle East and North Africa currently consider pursuing higher education in the country.

Ease of access to financial capital is another major benefit. Most private schools can easily get loans from local financial institutions. The government has also been keen on funding all public schools. Ease of access to human capital is another factor that can facilitate growth (Grieco, Ikenberry and Mastanduno, 2019). The country has been attracting expatriates from all over the world who can take part in the development of the sector. The flexibility and ability of the education sector in the country to embrace emerging technologies is another strength. The ease of access to financial capital is another strength that the local education sector has. Players in this industry can easily access loans through financial institutions or government grants.

It is important to note that despite the above strengths, the local education sector has major weaknesses that would need to be addressed. One such weakness is the heavy reliance on expatriates. A study by Hasan (2017) found out that the majority of teachers in primary schools in the country are expatriates, especially from India, Africa, and parts of Asia. In institutions of higher learning, a significant number of lecturers are expatriates from Europe and North America. There is a need to increase the level of involvement of locals in positions of educators (Elrod and Ryder, 2021). Public schools heavily rely on the government to finance their programs. As such, when the government withdraws its support. These institutions may not sustain their operations.

The sector enjoys numerous growth opportunities, top of which is the growing economy. As the country’s economy continues to grow, the government will have more resources at its disposal to support the education sector. It means that it will be able to finance developmental projects in schools around the country. The strong economy also means that the purchasing power of individual citizens has also improved (Erendor and Öztarsu, 2020).

People can afford to take their children to private colleges and finance their education without support from the government. The increasing popularity of higher education in the country among locals and foreigners staying in the country means that there will be a continued flow of students. Cases where learners drop out of school are going down at a significantly high rate. The increased parental involvement in the educational sector is another opportunity. Their involvement in the sector means that they will be willing to offer financial assistance whenever it is necessary to support infrastructural developments.

The sector faces some threats that may have a negative impact on its growth. One of the major threats is disruptive technologies. According to Kamøy (2021), not all technologies that emerge have a positive impact on the educational sector. Currently, institutions that have transformed their operations from analogue to digital platforms have to deal with the problem of cyber-attacks. It takes a lot of time and resources to find ways of dealing with these cyber threats. Competitiveness of the educational sector within the region means that some international students may consider pursuing their higher education in Saudi Arabia or Qatar instead of the UAE.

Another major area of concern is the retrogressive cultural practices that a section of society still embraces. Although the country has registered impressive performance in terms of socio-cultural and racial integration, cases of segregation in the line of race and religion have been reported. Such repugnant practices may negatively affect the diversity that is needed to facilitate the growth of education in the country. Table 1 below summarizes the factors discussed above.

Table 1: SWOT Analysis.

  • Attractiveness to the international community
  • Ease of access to financial capital
  • Ease of access to human capital
  • Flexibility and ability to embrace emerging technologies
  • Heavy reliance on expatriates
  • Heavy reliance on government funding
  • Growing economy
  • Increasing popularity of higher education
  • Increased parental involvement in the education sector
  • Disruptive technologies
  • Competitiveness within the region
  • Retrogressive cultural practices

Porter’s Five Forces

Industry Rivalry

Porter’s five forces model has widely been used to assess industry-specific factors that may affect the growth of a given organization. It narrows down the external analysis from those discussed using PESTEL. The first factor in this analysis is the industry rivalry. Chishti and Puschmann (2018) explain that in an industry where the level of industry is intense, the growth of an organization may be impeded by factors such as price wars. In the UAE, individual public schools face significant competition, which means that the level of competitive rivalry is high. Although they get financial support from the government, they have to compete amongst themselves to ensure that they register impressive performance. The industry rivalry gets even stiffer as the number of private schools continues to increase.

The majority of these private schools offer the international curriculum, especially that of the United Kingdom or the United States. Local public schools have to compete against these private institutions to ensure that they attract both local and foreign learners. Regionally, the country’s education sector has to remain as competitive as possible against other countries. It must convince the international community that it offers world-class educational services. Students graduating from local learning institutions should be capable of competing favorably against their colleagues at the international job market.

New Entrants

The threat of new entrants is a constant problem that individual schools in the country have to be ready to manage in their operations. In an effort to diversify the country’s economy, the government has created an environment that supports business operations both for local and international investors. As such, a number of new schools are likely to emerge across the country as the population continues to grow. As new firms make an entry into the market, the level of competitive rivalry becomes stiffer as they struggle to for the same clientele base. Private schools are more susceptible to the effects of the competition.

However, public schools must also ensure that they improve the quality of the services they deliver even though they get direct financial support from the government. They have to understand that there is a possibility of their students moving to other public or private schools where they are assured of improved service delivery.

Threat of Substitute Products

The threat of substitute products is often a major concern that stakeholders in a given industry must learn to address. When clients can easily shift from the use of one product to another substitute, then firms in the industry will be denied the bargaining power. They will have to ensure that they price their products competitively relative to that of the substitute Baron and McNeal (2019). The threat of substitutes in the country’s educational sector is significantly low. Informal education in the country has systematically been faced out. Similarly, homeschooling is not a common practice in the country. Learners and parents still prefer a conventional school environment. The same practice has been witnessed across the country. It means that stakeholders in the education sector, especially the management of different schools, do not have to worry about a possibility of a substitute service arising.

Bargaining Power of Suppliers

The bargaining power of the suppliers often has to be assessed when reviewing an industry. When suppliers offer a rare product that players in the industry cannot easily access, then they will wield immense power and can define terms of trade. On the other hand, when products that they supply are easily available from different stores, then their power will be significantly reduced. It is important to note that the bargaining power of suppliers in this industry is significantly low. Materials that learning institutions purchase to facilitate different learning activities are easily available in the market. Suppliers have to compete amongst one another to ensure that they get tenders to supply them. In such cases, they lack the power to define favorable terms that may negatively affect their clients. Schools can bargain for these products to ensure that they lower their cost of production as much as possible. The extra funds can be used in other developmental projects.

Bargaining Power of Buyers

The bargaining power of buyers is the fifth factor that has to be considered when using Porter’s model to assess the attractiveness of a given industry. Gallagher (2019) explains that when dealing with large organizational buyers, then they tend to enjoy a huge bargaining power that allows them to define terms of trade. On the other hand, when a firm makes its products unique in the market, then it can define terms of sale in the market. In this industry, clients (learners and their parents) have moderate bargaining power. The fact that they get direct financial support from the government in public schools means that individual schools cannot set prohibitive fees.

In the private sector, however, individual learning institutions have the liberty of setting school fees. Those that offer premium services often set higher than average school fees, which means that the bargaining power of buyers is relatively low in such cases. It is worth noting that as more schools emerge targeting the same niche and offering the same quality services, the bargaining power of these buyers may increase. They will have several options to make whenever they need such services. Figure 10 below identifies the five forces in Porter’s model.

Porter’s Five Forces
Figure 10. Porter’s Five Forces (Gallagher, 2019, p. 118).

Key Competitiveness Issues in the Education Cluster

It is necessary for players in this sector to understand key competitiveness issues in this sector. These factors have been discussed in detail in the section above. One of them is the quality that the sector offers to students. Local stakeholders in the sector must outperform their rivals in other countries within the region. The ability to integrate technology is another issue that should be considered as a key competitive issue. Technology is defining the path that the sector is taking into the future. A peaceful political environment and security are the other critical factors that define the competitiveness of the sector.

Policy Recommendations for the UAE’s Education Sector

The analysis shows that the UAE’s educational sector is one of the most competitive in the region. The direct and indirect support that the government has been giving to the public and private schools respectively have helped in enhancing the quality of services that the sector offers. However, there is still an opportunity for growth despite the impressive performance that has been registered. The following are the policy recommendations that the government should consider:

Policy Option 1: The government should enact policies that would allow it to increase its investment in innovation centers at the earliest stage of education possible. Currently, the few innovation centers that exist are in institutions of higher learning;

  • Type of intervention: Policy formulation;
  • Relevant organization: Federal National Council;
  • Stakeholders: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Community Development and parents.
  • Legislative changes to UAE laws: Yes;
  • Timeline: 5 months;
  • Resources: Financial resource, consultancy, legal experts, and data sharing platforms.
  • Risks and mitigation: Possible lack of agreement among stakeholders can be addressed through debates.

Policy Option 2: The government should have policies that will prohibit the exploitation of parents by private schools. Although they are private business entities, they should not make the cost of education unaffordable;

  • Type of intervention: Policy formulation;
  • Relevant organization: The Ministry of Education and the Federal National Council;
  • Stakeholders: Federal National Council, Ministry of Education, and parents.
  • Legislative changes to UAE laws: Yes;
  • Timeline: 6 months;
  • Resources: Financial resource, consultancy, legal experts, and data sharing platforms.
  • Risks and mitigation: Potential lack of agreement among stakeholders can be addressed through public engagements.

Policy Option 3: The government should increase its partnership with the private sector to enhance service delivery in the sector. The business environment should be enabling for foreign investors.

  • Type of intervention: Public-private partnership;
  • Relevant organization: The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance,
  • Stakeholders: Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, and private sector investors.
  • Legislative changes to UAE laws: Yes;
  • Timeline: 3 years;
  • Resources: Financial resource, consultancy, legal experts, and data sharing platforms.
  • Risks and mitigation: The possible risk of limited resources can be addressed through direct funding from the government.


The United Arab Emirates has one of the fastest developing economies in the region. The country has been successful in diversifying its economy as a way of reducing its reliance on the energy industry. The education sector has been one of the rapidly evolving sectors over the past two decades. When the country gained independence, it inherited the British system of education that failed to focus on addressing local problems. However, the rapid economic growth has created an avenue where the country can invest more in boosting its education sector. The analysis shows that the UAE has one of the most competitive educational sectors in the region.

The government has been supporting both public and private sector growth in this industry to help ensure that learners can acquire critical skills that they will need as entrepreneurs, employees, athletes, or artists. The government has made heavy infrastructural investments to improve the quality of public schools. Developments in the transport sector, security system, and other supporting sectors have all benefited the growth of the education sector. The study shows that there is still room for growth and should be keen on exploiting the emerging opportunities.

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