With relatively low enrolment and a limited presence of internationally recognised operators, Bahrain’s private K-12 education market offers considerable opportunity for expansion, thus a surge of new investment is anticipated over the coming years. Benefitting from high student outcomes and the potential to attract additional students from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Bahrain has already seen interest in private K-12 education jump in recent times, with a school under construction in Hidd set to offer seats for 1800 students by 2020. Nonetheless, new private schools may struggle to compete with the robust public school system.
In May 2018 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) published a report projecting that Bahrain’s private K-12 education market would grow by 75% by 2023 to reach $700m in value, up from $400m in 2017. Tuition fees for such schooling are among the lowest in the region, at $4700 annually. While this is higher than in the UAE as a whole ($4600) and Saudi Arabia ($4400), it is less than in Kuwait ($4900), Oman ($6300), Abu Dhabi ($6800), Qatar ($8000) and Dubai ($8700). Private K-12 enrolment is also comparatively low in Bahrain when compared to other GCC markets, with BCG reporting that 39% of the kingdom’s K-12 students are enrolled in a private institution, against 41% in Kuwait, 62% in Qatar and 73% in the UAE. However, this is above Saudi Arabia’s 18% and Oman’s 23%.
The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) reports that total private primary and secondary school enrolment rose from 60,649 in the 2013/14 academic year to 82,501 in 2017/18, a 36% increase. Private kindergarten attendance also rose sharply during this period, increasing by 52% between 2012 and 2017 to reach 33,662 that year. As a result, the board projects that private kindergartens will become a top education investment destination in coming years.
BCG reports that a growing shift towards private schools, rising tuition fees and new enrolment opportunities will support robust mid-term growth in the kingdom. According to the group, parents are willing to pay higher tuition for schools offering a diverse curriculum and better student outcomes, with this mentality supported by recent government moves to publish performance rankings of K-12 schools. Tuition fee growth in Bahrain is set to average 3% annually until 2023, and with BCG noting that local private schools have better outcomes than in many other GCC countries, new opportunities are being created to attract students from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province.
However, BCG states that Bahrain’s private school market is also highly fragmented, with no large-scale operators currently established. This may not be the case for long, though, as the kingdom is characterised as investor friendly, with fewer barriers to entry than the rest of the GCC region, creating space for high-quality, international private schools charging low- to mid-range tuition fees.
There are already indicators that investors have recognised the country’s growth potential. In January 2018, for example, Bahrain’s Dadabhai Group announced it would open a new BD8m ($21.2m) private school in time for the 2018/19 academic year. The Beacon Private School will be located on a 30,660-sq-metre plot in Hidd with capacity for 1800 students ranging from pre-K to grade 12 once fully completed. Initial intake in September 2018 focused on nursery school, kindergarten and grades 1-5, according to a local media report. Intake for grades 6-8 will begin in September 2019, with grades 9-12 following in September 2020.
Although private K-12 has considerable growth potential, some challenges persist. Private schools face a difficult regulatory environment and stiff competition from the public school system, with the Bahrain Education and Training Quality Authority classifying just 18% of private schools as “outstanding”, compared to 30% of public schools. As such, private operators must ensure their facilities are able to compete with public schools and offer superior outcomes.
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