Improving education systems in the Gulf and the Middle East through privatization

Improving education systems in the Gulf and the Middle East through privatisation

Data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics revealed that a considerable number of international students around the world came from the Middle East. Essentially, these individuals have decided to continue their academic pursuits abroad to access a particular level of standards and quality of education not readily available in their home countries.

However, it is also worth mentioning that several Arab States including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are fast becoming hubs for international education in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Nonetheless, the continued migration of students from the Middle East is a probable indicator of ongoing challenges faced by the local education systems in the region.

Pressing challenges in the education systems in the Gulf and Middle East

According to a report from M. Barber, M. Mourshed, and F. Whelan of consulting firm McKinsey and Company, several countries in the Middle East, including Kuwait, have successfully provided free access to primary and secondary education. Still, their respective education systems are unable to address issues concerning standards and quality.

The World Bank has also reiterated how the governments in the Middle East have failed to improve the performance of their students in international standardised tests while also failing to equip the younger populace with necessary competencies to become competitive in the local and international job market despite heavy investments in education.

Several individuals and organisations have also criticised public schools for failing to prepare students for local employments. Simply put, graduates are unable to perform jobs in the private sector because they lack the required level of competency. This failure is evident from the growing rate of youth unemployment and the continued reliance on expatriates.

Encouraging the private sector to own and operate educational institutions

The privatisation of schools is one of the feasible ways to improve the standards and quality of education in the Gulf and the Middle East.

As a backgrounder, several governments in the Middle East own and control a considerable number of educational institutions. This is problematic because most of these institutions provide a limited choice of academic programs and opportunities, thus leaving students with no choice but to pursue their studies outside their home countries.

It is important to note that a positive offshoot that comes from the privatisation of education is the improvement of educational services. According to John Merrifield, this improvement will naturally surface because privatization will paved the way for competition among private schools. After all, competition creates market efficiency because it allows individuals or capitalists to continuously improve their products or in the case of educational institutions, their respective service offerings in order to attract students.

Privatisation of education systems in the Middle East would inevitably result in the opening of competition that in turn, would improve the availability of options for parents and students.

There are several directions for promoting and implementing privatisation of education. According to Mark Harrison, the privatisation of schools typically transpires in three modes—private provision, private funding, and private regulation.

Private provision involves the private sector supplying educational services more than the government, specifically by owning and operation educational institutions. On the other hand, private funding involves channeling funds coming from private investors rather than government funding to finance education and all other related expenditures. Private regulation involves private control of the provision of educational services through setting up of private non-profit regulation bodies or accreditation organisations.

In consideration of the situation in the Gulf and the Middle East, countries could benefit from private provision and private regulation more than private funding. This is especially true for oil producing and exporting countries that have enough financial capacity to provide grants and financial assistance to emerging private institutions and the populace.

For instance, members of the private sector seeking to put up their own private schools can seek funding assistance from their respective governments. In addition, parents and students can ask their governments for scholarships and other financial assistance.

The importance of government regulations despite privatisation of education

Private regulation together with government mandates would nonetheless complete a two-fold regulation of educational institutions. This could be helpful in promoting and maintaining quality, responsiveness, and accountability across the academic communities.

Accountability and responsiveness are critical factors identified by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in improving the quality of education in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Accordingly, accountability relates to the obligation of the governments and educational institutions to promote and secure socioeconomic welfare through education. On the other hand, responsiveness or a responsive system involves the capacity of these governments and educational institutions to identify trends in education and the economy in order to provide the most relevant and timely education program and other related educations services.