State and private players work to increase investment in Qatar education

Human development is one of the four pillars of the country’s economic blueprint, Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). Along with fostering economic, social and environmental development, working to enable all of Qatar’s people to sustain a prosperous society represents one of the state’s major goals for the coming years. Before rising to the position of emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani led the Supreme Oversight Committee responsible for implementing QNV 2030. In its National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-16, the committee highlighted the importance of education in driving the state’s push toward a knowledge-based economy. “As the Qatar economy diversifies from its reliance on oil and gas,” it said, “success will depend increasingly on the ability to compete in a global knowledge economy.”

Since then, efforts to raise the standards of education in Qatar have been gathering pace. Over the past decade, the country has introduced a decentralised public school system, supported the development of a vibrant private school segment and invested significantly into tertiary education initiatives. Moving forward, a combination of government commitment, key partnerships with non-state stakeholders and increasing demand for education are set to maintain the sector’s pace of development.

A New Era 

In 2001 the authorities, looking to improve the performance of the country’s 220 single-gender K-12 schools, called for a system-wide assessment. In reviewing the results, they decided that, rather than seeking partial reforms, they would undertake a comprehensive overhaul. By 2002, a new system of decentralised, state-funded institutions called “independent schools” began taking shape under the Education for a New Era programme. The new system operated on four foundational concepts: independence, accountability, diversity and selection. Unlike their predecessors, the new independent schools would operate autonomously, subject only to conditions laid out in their contracts with the government. Gone were the days of judging schools by their adherence to a centralised curriculum. Instead, the system benchmarked accountability through national student assessments and stakeholder feedback, measures that have ultimately helped align Qatari schools with international standards.

Ministerial Reform 

In 2002 the state decided to dissolve the Ministry of Education and create three new institutions in its place: the Supreme Education Council (SEC), the Education Institute and the Evaluation Institute. During a ministerial consolidation in early 2016, the SEC was replaced by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, although the other two institutions retain their previous remits. While the ministry sets education policy, the Education Institute oversees and provides resources to independent schools, and the Evaluation Institute monitors progress through national assessments.

Non-State Schools 

Along with its independent schools, Qatar has a large system of non-state international schools divided into private and community schools. The differences between the two are related to profit aims and national affiliation. Private schools operate as commercial establishments free to set their own curriculum, while community schools operate on a non-profit basis, maintain formal ties to their national embassies and typically offer the national curriculum of their respective nations. Both private and community schools must meet the standards laid out in the Qatar National School Accreditation system, which is monitored by the Evaluation Institute. In 2015 there were 433 schools in total – 191 government schools and 242 private schools and kindergartens – Aysha Al Hashemi, assistant director of private school affairs at the Education Institute, told local media in August of that year. With Qatar’s large number of expatriate workers, many of whom are accompanied by their families, demand for private international schools is high. Indeed, the non-state sector makes up the majority of total enrolments: community and private schools accounted for 59% of total enrolment in the 2013/14 academic year, as per data from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS) published in October 2015.

Higher Enrolment 

The population of Qatar more than tripled in the decade to 2012, growing by 11.6% per year on average to reach 2m from 624,288, according to World Bank data. While more recent data shows that the annual growth rate has eased, this upward trend is set to continue, Nasser Saleh Al Mahdi, director of census at the MDPS, told local media in October 2015.

According to the ministry’s figure, the population was 2.4m in 2015. This growth has far outpaced the authorities’ original estimates published in the NDS, which projected that the population would be fewer than 1.9m by 2016. Like the overall population, the number of young people in the country has grown significantly. The number of children under 15 years of age rose by 7.7% from 304,957 to 328,424 between February 2014 and the same month in 2015, according to data published in March 2015 by the MDPS. The population of 15-24-year-olds, meanwhile, grew by 8.5% from 299,747 to 325,317 during the same period. School enrolment has kept pace. There were 245,000 students enrolled in all government and private schools for the 2013/14 academic year, a year-on-year increase of 5.6%.


In terms of Qatar’s overall economic performance, real GDP growth was 3.7% in 2015 and non-hydrocarbons growth reached 7.8%, with hydrocarbons growth contracting by 0.1% in 2015. Falling oil and gas revenues, which shrank just over 33% during the period, contributed to a 15.8% decrease in government revenues between FY 2013/14 and FY 2014/15, according to March 2015 data from the Ministry of Finance. In addition, preliminary receipts from Customs duties and corporate income taxes saw decreases, contributing to the overall budget dip. In response to evolving energy markets, the government has adjusted its spending, reducing both current and capital expenditures by 17.4% and 19.7%, respectively, for an overall decrease of 18.1% for the FY 2014/15, according to data released by the Ministry of Finance in mid-2015.

A Long-Term Priority 

Nevertheless, state spending has remained strong for the education sector. “Despite the drop in oil prices, we are still going ahead with our planned projects,” Ali Shareef Al Emadi, the minister of finance, said in a March 2015 speech. “We will give priority to projects related to health, education, infrastructure, transportation – including rail – and projects related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.” Both capital and current expenditures for education have seen significant growth over the past seven years. Capital expenditure grew from QR1.1bn ($301.8m) to QR8.2bn ($2.3bn) between FY 2007/08 and FY 2013/14, while current expenditure rose from QR3.2bn ($878.1m) to QR11.3bn ($3.1bn) during the same period. As a share of capital expenditure, education spending nearly quadrupled from 3% to 11%, while current expenditure rose from 6% to 8%.

Rising Demand 

As school population and government spending have increased, so too has demand for education. The number of students is set to continue rising as well. Qatar is to add eight to 12 schools with a capacity of 1500 students per year through to 2022 to keep up with this rising rate of demand, US-based real estate consultancy Colliers International predicted in a report on Qatar’s education sector. In response the government has been funding construction of new schools, recruiting new teachers and working with non-state schools to keep up with expansion. In order to boost the number of educational facilities, the Public Works Authority (Ashghal) announced it would award contracts to build 17 schools and six kindergartens for a total value of about QR1.25bn ($343m), state-run Qatar News Agency reported in February 2015. At the time, Ashghal said another 38 schools and kindergartens were already under construction. By August 2015 it had handed 22 school and 11 kindergarten buildings over to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to be opened in the 2015/16 academic year, Umar al Shahwani, head of the ministry’s joint services department, told the media.

Human Capital 

As physical capital receives a boost from ongoing construction, the authorities are also working to gather human capital to run the country’s growing education system. In May 2015 the Ministry of Education and Higher Education said it planned to recruit 1500 more educators, especially from Arab countries, to fill positions at existing schools and staff the dozens of new schools that had opened. Education stakeholders aim to recruit teachers from Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The authorities say the process would be facilitated by fast-tracked immigration improvements. By August 2015, the ministry had hired 1400 teachers, bringing the total number employed by independent schools to 13,700. The recruitment drive marked an increase in new hires over 2014, when Qatar sought to attract 900 new educators for the independent school system.

Private Investment

The authorities are also working with private schools to adjust regulations in order to increase capacity and maintain investment. Private education demand is high due in part from a gap in supply. Dubai, for instance, had 233 international schools serving its population of 2.3m in 2014, according to a report by Dubai-based Alpen Capital, whereas Qatar had 130 international schools and a population of 2.2m. With the gap between expected demand and current supply, players in the region have highlighted the potential for growth. “Qatar’s rapid economic development is translating positively into a larger population and expanding education sector,” Mansoor Ahmed, director of health care, education and public-private partnerships at Colliers International, said in September 2015. “Given that a well-run school can achieve profit margins of around 20% once its stabilisation years are complete, private investors and operators are increasingly looking at the Qatar market as a major opportunity.”

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education acknowledges the importance of keeping up with demand, and has been keen to streamline the process of opening schools. The government body granted more than 90 new private schools approval to open for the 2015/16 academic year, Aysha Al Hashemi, the ministry’s assistant director for private schools affairs, told local media. She added, however, that the actual number would likely be lower.

Rising Costs

Some in the private sector point to the challenge that high start-up costs pose to the opening of new schools. “Unless there is a change in policy where land is available at a subsidised rate, there will be a shortage,” Ahmed told local media in October 2015. Land typically accounts for 10-15% of a new school’s costs, but in Qatar that figure is more often between 20% and 30%, he added.

As demand for education has risen in the country, so too have its costs. While the overall consumer price index in Qatar rose by 1.7% between October 2014 and October 2015, the price of education rose by 18%, according to data from the MDPS. Outpacing the consumer price index growth rate by a factor of 10, education was the fastest-rising category in the basket of goods and services measured. The price increase poses a challenge for both schools and the authorities. On the one hand, the government wants to maintain a brisk pace of investment to meet rising demand and continue improving quality. On the other, the authorities want to ensure that the cost of education is within the budgets of all of Qatar’s population. To this end, the government has taken steps to prevent price increases, while also implementing a voucher programme to support families that want their children to be privately educated but cannot afford it. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education also monitors schools’ costs, and requires approval for any proposed increases in tuition.

Tertiary Education

As in the K-12 segment, university-level education has also been gaining momentum. The number of students in government and private universities reached 25,000 in the 2013/14 academic year, with enrolment in public universities making up 73% of the total. Qatar University (QU), the country’s largest public university, has led the way in advancing tertiary public education. The organisation has since undergone a reform programme with the aim of improving competitiveness and expanding its research and post-graduate programmes. Concrete reforms included revised admission standards, expanded student services and a heightened focus on research. In 2014 QU announced major expansions over the next five years, with the ultimate goal of accommodating up to 25,000 students by 2019. To accommodate its growing student population, QU is in the process of constructing or renovating new buildings with a facilities budget of QR500m ($132.7m). Plans include new structures for the Colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, Law and Education. Construction on the new engineering building began in May 2014, while processes are underway for the new College of Education and College of Law buildings. With the establishment of the College of Medicine in 2014 and the College of Health Sciences in early 2016, plans are underway for a dynamic medical city that will enable collaboration and integration among programmes in medicine, health sciences and pharmacy as well as relevant research activities.

Education City 

While QU continues to advance an international standard teaching and learning environment, Education City, a multi-billion-dollar project spearheaded by Qatar Foundation (QF), has successfully attracted foreign academic expertise as well. As a private, non-profit organisation founded in 1995, QF’s work encompasses education, research and community development. QF has worked to attract foreign universities to operate in the state under 10-year renewable agreements. Education City houses nine universities in all: eight foreign and one Qatari, Hamad bin Khalifa University, founded in 2011. Of the foreign offerings, there are six American universities (Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Northwestern University in Qatar, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar or – VCUQ atar – Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and Texas A&M University in Qatar), one British (UCL Qatar) and one French (HEC Paris in Qatar). “Universities are central to the rapid development of the creative industries in the region.” Akel Ismail Kahera, dean of VCUQ atar, told OBG. “We have 508 students who have graduated in emerging design industries to date. Many of these students would not have had access to these educational paths. We have 60% Qatari nationals and 93% of the student population is female.”

Specialised Institutes 

Institutions offer programmes that focus on their particular strengths.  Georgetown, for instance, delivers programmes in international politics, while Texas A&M awards degrees in engineering and HEC Paris focuses on business and executive education. “The development of executive education in Qatar has been pushing ahead quite rapidly given the focus towards economic diversification, which has created a steadily increasing demand for executive management education that can help train and further educate local business leaders,” Laoucine Kerbache, dean and CEO of HEC Paris in Qatar, told OBG. “The number of students in our HEC Executive MBA programme has been steadily increasing. In total, the number of participants we have had since the launch of the HEC executive MBA in Qatar now stands at 209, 52% of whom are Qatari nationals.”


The education sector in Qatar has seen rapid growth over the past decade. High demand, supported by a growing population, has provided a strong impetus to innovate in the segment. For public schools, state reforms have devolved many decisions to the local level, creating independent schools with more latitude in their decision-making. For private schools, demand continues to outstrip supply, a state of affairs that is likely contributing to the steadily rising price of education in the country.

Meanwhile, in the higher education segment, major investments have already provided universities with solid foundations. These stakeholders’ continued engagement could help create a more conducive investment environment, allowing private players to shoulder some of the financial risks of upfront funding and contribute to the country’s already diverse offering. Such steps could help keep costs down while maintaining a realistic investment environment for the growing number of private sector players.

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