Top trends: IPOs likely in GCC education sector as investor interest surges

A new report from Alpen Capital talks about the various trends in the GCC education sector including investment opportunities and edtech

Image used for illustrative purpose.

Image used for illustrative purpose.

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As the education sector continues to emerge from COVID-19, education asset valuations are ‘more realistic’ and mergers and acquisitions (M&A), will thrive as the sector grows and become more common, said industry experts during the launch of Alpen Capital’s GCC Education Industry Report 2021. 

The demographics of the GCC region make it irresistible for education investment - a large proportion of young people with a large expat population reliant on private education. 

Education providers are also likely to carry out individual public offerings (IPOs) as interest from investors in the GCC education continues to grow, experts from Alpen Capital said.  

Spotlight on Saudi 

Saudi Arabian market is of particular interest. It has allowed 100 percent foreign direct investment (FDI) in the education sector since 2017 and has huge potential for investment in its pre-school market as the kingdom’s society continues to undergo change. 

“A lot of operators want to move in[to Saudi Arabia], the demographics and the data are irresistible and there is a need for private sector contributors,” said Ivor McGettigan, partner and chair of the education sector group, Al Tamimi & Co, 

“It has gone into a holding pattern as a result of COVID, but we do expect it to be reignited. The pre-school opportunities in Saudi Arabia are absolutely vast, when you are looking at an economy with greater female participation in the workforce, there is going to be a lot more opportunities for pre-school.” 

The Saudi government targets making women 30 percent of its country’s workforce by 2030, under its Vision 2030 plans. 

Edtech here to stay 

Khrishna Dhanak, executive director, Alpen Capital, said the GCC’s private education sector overall was a target for investment thanks to its high GDP per capital, which at $33,000 is three times higher than the global average. 

Edtech has become an integral part of the education sector in the wake of COVID-19, he said highlighting the changing landscape: “There is a transformational rise of STEM education – the changing job landscape has obviously made a requirement for specialised skills for students, which has led to an uptick in demand for higher education in STEM areas.” 

“STEM occupations are expected to grow eight percent by 2049, three times higher than all occupations put together,” he added. 

While edtech and STEM education may be key trends, technology will not replace bricks and mortar schools, said McGettigan 

“Edtech is here to stay but I don’t see it replacing bricks and mortar. Children want to go to school and meet their friends, build relationships. It also has a pastoral role to play. Children may not have a schoolbag in the future, they will have a tablet, but they will still go to school,” he said. 

Private will dominate the UAE 

The UAE and Bahrain also allow 100 percent foreign investment in education, while Qatar allows 49 percent foreign investment, and the webinar hears that the private school sector was particularly important in the UAE - the one country where the number of private schools has continued to increase while the number of government schools has fallen. 

McGettigan also highlighted the growing role of the private sector, even in government schools. 

“Public private partnership (PPP) was the standard, now it’s becoming the preferred model to deliver from the government point of view,” he said. 

“We could see Ministry of Education government schools run by private companies, which would be unimaginable a few years ago. 

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)

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© ZAWYA 2021

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