A key challenge for the education sector in Kuwait is rising cost pressures, with the issue being discussed in public arenas and the media. It is not just a matter of concern to the parents of the students involved, but to Kuwaiti businesses and the government as well. In part this is because the cost of education for children of non-Kuwaiti parents is not covered by the state. As such, if expatriate workers wish to have their children schooled in Kuwait, they – or their employers – must meet the costs out of their own pocket.
Thus, rising school fees have a knock-on effect across the whole economy in the form of fewer skilled workers choosing to relocate to the country, or increased costs for Kuwaiti companies that must bear the expense of higher charges. It is not uncommon in Kuwait for large firms to pay for the education of their employees’ children as part of their overall remuneration package, particularly when seeking to attract highly skilled staff from overseas.
RISING COSTS: School fees in Kuwait are regulated by the Ministry of Education (MoE), which is also responsible for licensing and inspecting private schools. There are a number of underlying reasons for the hike in education charges. First, the Kuwaiti economy remains robust, with the IMF estimating GDP growth of around 1.3% in 2014 and non-oil growth of 3.5%. This, in turn, has helped to draw in more workers from abroad. Kuwait’s population stood at around 3.4m in 2013, compared to 2.2m in 2005, according to figures from the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB), and this increase has been driven by new arrivals. Currently, expatriate workers and their families account for roughly two-thirds of the population. At the same time, the total number of private schools has increased from 453 in the 2005/06 academic year to 501 in 2013/14, including special needs schools, and the total number of students has risen from 166,000 to 250,746 over the same period, according to the CSB.
Moreover, Kuwaiti nationals have increasingly been taking to private education as their disposable income has grown. According to investment bank Alpen Capital’s 2014 “GCC Education Industry” report, in 2000 private schools educated 29% of all pupils in Kuwait, whereas by 2012 that figure stood at 37%. The shift is partly due to prestige, with American and British schools tending to charge the highest fees as they have the most popular of the foreign curricula on offer. It is also a reflection of a pragmatic recognition of the value of learning English. As a result, there is a growing strain on the private school network, and with places in short supply, prices have risen.
The availability of staff is another factor driving up costs. Since most private schools in Kuwait follow foreign curricula, they must import staff from overseas who have been trained to impart this material. There is a high rate of turnover among expatriate staff in Kuwait, and education is no exception. Moreover, setting up new schools is relatively capital-intensive and obtaining land can be a major cost element, which is a further contributor to the tuition increases for both private schools and private universities.
TACKLING THE CHALLENGE: Over the near term the government is seeking to bring cost increases under control while allowing for raises to salaries to keep Kuwait attractive to expatriates.
In November 2014 the MoE announced that fee increases at schools following the Indian curriculum would be capped at KD356 ($1226) per term for primary schools, KD410 ($1413) per term for middle schools and KD460 ($1585) per term for high schools. Teachers’ salaries were set at KD263 ($906) per month for primary school staff, KD284 ($978) for middle school teachers and KD341 ($1175) for high school instructors. Meanwhile, for schools following the Filipino curriculum, the fees were raised to KD516 ($1777), KD568 ($1957) and KD590 ($2032) per term for primary, middle and high schools, respectively, while monthly salaries were increased to KD250 ($861), KD275 ($947) and KD300 ($1033) for primary, middle and secondary school teachers, respectively.
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