Can the UAE Recruit Enough Teachers to Meet its Educational Needs

The task to recruit K-12 teachers for the UAE public and private school systems seems straightforward.  It’s just a matter of advertising on the web; go on the road to job fairs maybe a few ads in the paper and “They Shall Come.” Here are a few examples of openings across the country:

  • Dubai: Secondary English Teachers, Salary: £18,612 – £30,672
  • Abu Dhabi: Teachers, Salary: Between 12,300 – 19,000 AED per month ($3350-$5100)
  • Al Ain: Elementary Teachers, Salary: £17,496 – £21,876 /  $26,136 – $32,676 per annum
  • Fujairah: English Teacher (Up to KS5), £24,000 per annum
  • Sharjah:  English/Business Studies Teacher), salary of up to 15,500AED a month ($41,00USD/£2800)

In most cases the additional benefits to salary are:

  • Tax Free income
  • 2 or 3 year contract
  • Full Medical Benefits (Single/Married
  • Sponsorship: Single / Married teaching couples
  • Airfare: Provided in full
  • Housing: Provided, with furnishing stipend
  • Bonus: End of contract severance of 1 month’s salary for each year worked

The examples are job openings posted on various sites during this past month.  So why is there a recruiting problem? Teachers should be coming from everywhere on the planet but it appears qualified teachers are not so easy to recruit. The pay seems reasonable however there are huge discrepancies in the pay scales of teachers across different curriculum and private/public schools.

Emirates 24/7 interviewed in 2012, Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem schools who stated, “The very basic salary in an international school in the country starts at Dh8,000 per month and goes up to Dh35,000.”  An assistant teacher gets up to Dh8,000  whereas teachers can take home anything between Dh10,000 to 20,000 per month. The head of primary/secondary get paid Dh22,000 to Dh25,000 and principals get paid Dh35,000+.

“The average salary of teachers in the UAE is of Dh9,750 with average salaries ranging between Dh3,500 and Dh16,000,” stated Suhail Masri, VP of Sales at Teachers in the Indian/Pakistani curriculum tend to be paid salaries on the lower end of the spectrum.”

“Teaching staff probably earn about 80 per cent of what they would get in their home countries – like the US, UK and Australia but people who come here know what their disposable income is at the end of the day. The benefits of a tax-free environment in the UAE cannot be discounted and if all the benefits like free housing are taken into consideration, the overall package would be comparable with the global average.”

Pierrepont added: “We have one salary scale for people performing the same role. The only difference is in the benefits given to people recruited locally or from overseas. In some organizations there can be several salary scales – so people from different ethnic backgrounds get paid differently but can actually be doing the same job. We as an equal opportunity employer, have never approved of this sort of discrimination.  Also other organizations may pay part of their salaries as ‘allowances’, this greatly affects the employees gratuity at the end of their contract and teachers should avoid schools that employ this sharp practice to cut costs.”

The teaching environment has challenges with pay discrimination due to nationality but I doubt this has significantly reduces the number of teachers who will come to the UAE.  There appears to be another issue.

In a May 2013 story published by the National, Saeed Al Kaabi, the head of the Sharjah Education Zone told teachers and FNC members at a public meeting that private schools were finding it extremely difficult to hire teachers from Arab countries suffering political tensions because of security concerns.

Private school heads agreed, particularly as many teachers are hired from Egypt and Syria. “It is difficult these days,” said one principal, whose school had begun to recruit more aggressively in countries including Jordan and Morocco. “It’s difficult for them to recruit from some countries. We are very cautious when we recruit teachers. Before, it wasn’t a concern.”

A possible solution is to focus on recruiting Emirati’s to the teaching profession. There are men and women who are not unemployed and it makes sense for UAE Nationals to teach their own children.

When challenged by a FNC member, to recruit more UAE Nationals, Al Kaabi said the problem was political and a solution was needed. “If I stopped [schools] from bringing in someone from abroad then I must give an alternative, give a list of Emiratis who can work. Tell them if you will pay 8,000 AED, we as a Government will pay another 8,000 AED.”

A principal, who declined to give his name, said it had also been difficult to hire Emirati teachers. “We would love to recruit local people but unfortunately they don’t come,” he said. “At government schools they get even higher salaries and more benefits than in the private sector.” A recruiter at the discussion on Sunday night told the council she had been offering “appealing salaries” for Emiratis for three years, and had not received a single application. “No one even called to ask about the salary.”  She said the ministry should remove an Emiratisation requirement, but Mr. Al Rahoomi strongly objected, saying there were still many unemployed Emiratis.

However is that a realistic solution?  The National reported in 2012 that HCT graduated six Emirati men who will be taking up teaching positions in Abu Dhabi government schools. It is a momentous occasion for them, and equally so for the education system: they are the first Emirati men to graduate from a teaching college in more than three years. Attracting men to the teaching profession is a global problem, but it is especially so in the UAE, where an Abu Dhabi Emirati teacher’s salary of Dh16,000 to Dh20,000 is not competitive to what their peers are earning and prestige is at stake.”It’s a profession that is looked down upon,” said Mr. Al Mesaabi, 23. “I face this problem every time I meet friends. They ask me why I am still pursuing this and say my career will go nowhere. Not one of them has ever encouraged me to continue.”

In a 2010 report, issued by the KHDA for 2010 showed that 1,787 of the 3,154 teachers working in the state system were Emirati. This broke down to 123 men and 1,664 women. But 2011 figures shows 1,237 Emirati women are teaching in Dubai’s public schools and only 33 male nationals. In Abu Dhabi, 4,319 of the 10,854 teachers employed by ADEC are UAE nationals.

If the expansion of K-12 schools goes as predicted, the providers who need quality teachers must find a solution to recruitment. Perhaps increasing benefits and pay rates will improve retention and bring more westerners to the UAE. Perhaps they can devise a campaign, which teaching will be an honored and well-paid profession for Emirati’s, but at best that will take time.  Personally I am intrigued by  Mr. Al Kaabi suggestion that after decades of service to the country “raising the next generations”, teachers should be offered a path to Emirati citizenship.

However FNC council members said this was the concern of the Naturalization and Residency Department, and not related to education.  This is absolutely true but it’s everyone’s duty that lives in the UAE to seek a solution so the nation has sufficient quality of teachers for children. Hopefully we will see more UAE National join this honorable profession.

Sources: The National 2012 & 2013,  Emirates 24/7 2012, various job posting sites

K-12 Education Market in the UAE

In my last blog I discussed the expansion of higher education institutions in The United Arab Emirates. This entry will present a background piece on expansion in the UAE K-12 education market, opportunities and challenges.

What do the Numbers Say?

 The most recent UAE population reports state that the UAE has a population, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, is 8.2 million at the end of 2011. The breakdown consists of:

  • 1 million UAE Nationals and the expats from: 
  • 1.7 million from India,
  • 1.2 million from Pakistan
  • 700,000 the Philippines
  • 600,000 Bangladesh
  • 400,000 Iranians
  • 300,000 Egyptians
  • 300,000 from Sri Lanka
  • 300,00 from Afghanistan
  • 300,000 from Indonesia
  • 250,000 Jordan
  • 250,000 British
  • 150,000 Lebanon
  • 125,000 from Nepal,
  • 100,000 South Africans
  • 50,000 + from the US and Canada

In the budget for the fiscal year 2010, the education sector consisted of about 23% (Dh 10 billion or $2.7 billion US) of the total national budget of Dh 43.6 billion according to Mr. Ahmed Mohammed Al Midfa, Chairman of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

K-12 Marketplace

More than 2,000 schools operate in the UAE, with the private sector quickly growing. The private schools are a major business generating over $1 billion US dollars in tuition. So a question to be asked is where does the tuition payments come from? If you say the government or employers pay for everything you are in for a surprise. 

In a May 4th 2013 story in The National, reported its survey results. A key finding stated: “Almost one in five families spends more than 30 percent of their household income on school fees. The survey with 596 responses revealed 62 per cent of respondents cover the entire cost of their children’s school. 24 percent receive a contribution from their company and 13 percent have their school fees paid in full.

When asked whether the school fees paid represent ‘good value for the quality of school offering the results were:

  • 54 per cent of those who have fees paid think those fees represent ‘good value’
  • 27 per cent of those who pay in full themselves think those fees represent ‘good value’. 

In spite of the cost constraints on parent’s budget, more than six in ten parents surveyed would recommend the school their children attend to other parents. However just 49 per cent of parents at Indian schools would do so. The most important criteria to parents is not the cost by rather the ‘Qualifications of Teachers’ followed by ‘Choice of Curricula’.

Numerous companies are establishing schools in the UAE.  Example, of the 148 private schools in Dubai, 116 are for-profit and the other 32 operate on a not-for-profit or non-commercial basis. GEMS education is the for-profit market leader and their 19 schools in Dubai which captures 25% of the private school students.

It is not just the growth in Dubai the UAE is experiencing. Investors stated at a recent education forum in Abu Dhabi their plans to build their schools in remote areas of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the Western Region. GEMS, which owns four schools in Abu Dhabi as well as its holdings in Dubai, plans to open seven additional schools across the Emirate for 30,000 students. It is also important to note that companies like GEMS are offering parents diverse schools (Indian, International, American etc.) and programs which will meet the needs of multinational population. In addition for profit schools can generate other high margin revenue for transportation, books, food, and facilities.

Where is the UAE K-12 Headed?

The for profit education companies believe the market is underserved and with a growing population the education market will expand for the foreseeable future. The data supports the view that expansion will be successful assuming tuition increases do not outpace the employee and employers ability to pay.

However a major stumbling block is the recruitment of teachers with proper qualifications. If parents determine the teachers aren’t worth the cost of tuition they may well look at alternative methods.  In an upcoming blog I will discuss the difficulty in recruiting teachers from the UAE, Middle East and the West.   

Sources: The National April/May 2013, UAE National Bureau of Statistics, and ICEF Monitor Country Snapshot UAE February 2013 

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