Starting a New Company: Trials, Tribulations, and Initial Success

Season’s greetings and a Happy New Year.

As we come to the end of 2014 and our first ninety days of operational existence as Edu Alliance Ltd., it seems like a good time to update our friends and supporters on our new venture.

On October 1st, Dr. Senthil Nathan, who recently retired after 21 years at Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) where he served as Deputy Vice Chancellor, and I formally incorporated Edu Alliance and established an office in the Masdar Free Zone on the campus of Masdar Institute.  We both completed our employment at our respective organizations; Senthil at HCT and myself at The United Arab Emirates Advanced National Research & Education Network (Ankabut).

In the month of September we spent a great deal of time wrapping up our current employment and finishing the business / legal and residency processes to establish our business entity.

Starting your own company in the Middle East is not like starting a LLC in the US, which seems to take about 10 minutes and not much money. In the UAE, which is more business friendly than many other countries in the region setting up in a Free Zone is the easiest route and lets you have direct 100% ownership of your company. Still, it’s a mountain of paperwork to fill out that must be approved by the Free Zone plus getting clearances from the government and establishing the bank you will use. Senthil and I did it in breakneck speed for out here, but the waiting time for final approval and getting your license can make your hair go gray, unless you are like me and already have white hair.

The next hurdle is getting your residency visa. This cannot start until your license and company has been approved. You must fill out more forms, clear security, take a physical, get your ID cards, and then wait. During this period if you are a personality like me you will conjure up all kinds of things that might go wrong ranging from filling out forms wrong or reconsidering why starting a business such a bright idea. However within thirty days of getting the business incorporated everything is approved and you quite worrying they are going to put you on a plane to Louisville, Kentucky.     

During October we didn’t spend all of our time getting visa’s and legal documents We also began setting up initial meetings with a selected group of supporters and a targeted group of potential clients beginning in early November.

We held our first of introductory meetings with presidents of three universities in the UAE to introduce, Edu Alliance.  We were pleased to get an immediate request to submit a proposal in our very first meeting with a university in the UAE. Within a few days the proposal was accepted, and a formal contract awarded. The project commenced in mid-November and was completed in early December.

ECT web shotThe first client was Emirates College of Technology, based in the UAE with well over 2,000 students enrolled in its programs. They commissioned Edu Alliance to help develop in-house capacity for market research. This objective was accomplished through two customized, evidence driven and locally relevant workshops in close coordination with the university’s institutional research division. We helped create relevant templates and processes for new program proposals based on market research.

Our second client was KPMG in the GCC. We were appointed as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) – in work related to universities, colleges and schools.   As you know, KPMG is one of the largest professional services companies in the world (one of the Big Four consulting / audit firms), which has offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In November, we provided for KPMG advisory service / organizational review for a major chain of K-12 schools and in December an internal audit and academic review of a leading UAE research university.  

During the run up and the past 90 days, we also established an Advisory Board, which currently is composed of 10 renowned international experts in areas related to higher education, research and human capital development. They bring their breadth of knowledge and experience gained through years of professional involvement of knowledge of the United Arab Emirates, Gulf Regions and as well as in the international settings. You can visit our website at http://www.edu-alliance.net/our-team/advisors/ to see who they are. We are fortunate to have such people who believe in us and the work we are doing.

We believe the initial success of the first ninety days confirms Edu Alliance is offering quality services the education community believes are important for their planning and future success.

We are arranging meetings to introduce ourselves to a number educational institutions throughout the UAE and GCC over the next few months. If you would like us to come and visit with you to discuss how we may be of service to your organization please email or call me.

Senthil and I thank you for your support and belief in us. We ask that you continue to be our advocates and make introductions on potential clients. Also we welcome any thoughts on how we can expand business and branding.  Feel free to write or call either one of us. 

Once again, Season’s Greetings and a very Happy New Year.

UAE Commitment to Education

Education is the hot topic in the UAE. I’ve noticed a visible increase of cabinet officials visiting schools throughout the country and speaking of their strategic importance.  The Arabic and English media are writing featured stories on education at all levels. In addition government studies on education with a focus on the status of K-12 has been produced by ADEC and KHDA. As I reported in earlier blogs there is massive increase of new private schools and students.  

Facts from KHDA

  • Dubai has 153 private schools
  • 6 private schools charge little or no tuition
  • The most expensive school charges 96,140AED
  • The average fee paid for a pupil to attend a Dubai school has risen to 17,172AED a year. Tuition fees are similar in Abu Dhabi
  • About 15% of parents now pay more than 35,000AED in tuition a year per child
  • Tuition fees in Dubai private schools increased 4.5% in 2012
  • Pupil numbers at private schools rose by 7.1% in 2012
  • Enrollment in Dubai private schools have doubled in 10 years, exceeding 225,000 pupils
  • 30,044 of these students are Emirati, which has doubled in10 years

Curriculum in schools vary; the UK education system is used in 35% of the schools followed by US at 22.9%, Indian at 15.7%, and UAE Ministry of Education at 8.5%.  However do not assume that a person’s nationality means they participate in their country’s curriculum. Indians consist of 35.2% of the student population, followed by UAE Nationals at 13.4%, Pakistan at 9.6%, UK at 4.9%, Americans at 2.4%, and the remaining 34.5% are from various parts of the world.  

As I written in the past, parents will spend money for their children’s education be it expat or Emirati. If their employer doesn’t assist they will find additional funds to get their children the best possible education.

ADEC recently conducted a survey of parents in Abu Dhabi of which 40,000 responded. One surprising fact came out; just over 47% stated their child takes private lessons in subjects such as Math, Science, English and Arabic. It is also reported that the cost of private tutoring ranges from 100-175AED per hour. It would seem to mean that children are not getting sufficient support in the classroom.  Also teachers are making extra income being tutors though their employer can reprimand or fire them, though it’s unlikely to occur.

 The last item is who teaches in private schools. There are 14,333 teachers of which 80% are female and 20% male. The percentage is less disproportionate in middle and secondary schools where 66% are female and 34% are males. The one figure that continues to be a major concern is the number of Emirati teachers. In Dubai private schools, 24 of the 14,333 teachers are UAE Nationals. Of the twenty-four, one is a male teacher.

Conclusions

  1. Parents will spend a significant portion of their income to get their child the best possible education.
  2. Parents are not convinced that public schools have the quality of education they desire. This is particular apparent in Dubai.
  3. Private schools will continue to increase as will the average tuition and fees though salaries are not keeping up with inflation.
  4. UAE higher education institutions can’t provide enough teachers to meet demand for years to come. Expat teachers will continue to be recruited and the turnover rate will remain high.
  5. UAE leadership is committed to education and working on ways to improve public K-12 but have seen more positive results in higher education.  The focus to improve student K-12 learning is implementation of new technology for “Smart Classrooms”. 
  6. Emiratization as a goal makes sense but difficult to attract Emirati’s to the education sector.

 UAE Nationals need to be more directly involved in K-12 and higher education as teachers and administrators. It is critical that students see fellow Emirati’s teaching and leading federal and public schools. What the government has yet to address is how to change the mindset of parents and extended families. They have yet made a convincing case their sons or daughters should go into the education profession instead of engineering, business, and finance. It will take a change in salary structure and a change in cultural thinking that shows the education field has prestige. 

Technology can’t solve this issue.   

PS: To all my friends and colleagues in the field of education have a good summer vacation.