DUBAI: Educators across the Middle East and North Africa region are benefiting from a newly launched tool that aims to help them after three years of school-fee freezes and stagnation of education spending owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UK-based training provider Skills Network launched the Curriculum Led Financial Planning Tool to offer financial planning assistance to international schools throughout the region, which have been particularly hard hit by the fee freeze.
The last permitted fee increase in some Arab Gulf countries was allowed during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority announced in March that international schools would not be allowed to raise tuition fees for 2022, further adding pressure to schools in the UAE’s commercial capital.
Last year, hundreds of private schools in Saudi Arabia also cut their fees by half during the first semester of the new academic year to help mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.
Regional schools, especially those with smaller accounting teams, will greatly benefit from the new tools available to them, according to Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah.
“It can help them think about how to save money or streamline costs, opportunities for fundraising and, overall, how to manage the school’s finances more sustainably,” she told Arab News.
The CLFP tool will help MENA schools to cope with a difficult economic environment.
The cloud-based global school resource provides users with 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, eliminating the use of traditional electronic spreadsheets for financial planning.
Developed in partnership with leading school groups in the UK, the tool offers educators a collection of resources, templates and methodologies designed to “support financial planning and manage staffing through efficient and strategic systems,” providing schools with “expert support through challenging financial times.”
“There’s a huge demand for financial planning tools in the MENA region, with the quality of education determined by stable finances, so the CLFP is a natural fit,” said Christopher Brown, School and Sixth Forms manager at the Skills Network.
“The international school fee freezes implemented by the KHDA back in March 2022 have pushed budgetary resources to the fore for education leaders in the Middle East, with our CLFP tool holding potential for significant financial improvement for educators in this region.”
The tool offers a range of benefits for educational institutions, including benchmarking finances, detailed workforce planning, which enables institutions to deploy staff efficiently, and curriculum and subject modeling.
Schools will also be able to develop an integrated curriculum planning strategy based on the measurement of current curriculum, staffing structure and finances to create a three-to-five-year plan based on data.
Such a move aims to enable educators to develop the best curriculum for their pupils with the funding they have available.
The pandemic saw schools all over the globe enter a period of financial instability. In the Gulf, between January 2020 and January 2022, more than 40 of the UAE’s international schools opened, but at least another 40 closed. “Equally, enrollment cycles have become less predictable post-pandemic, so this has made financial planning difficult for schools,” Brown told Arab News.
“Although there is optimistic recovery in some MENA countries, there is still much to be done to ensure financial stability and economic growth.
“There are now new pressures to include mandatory teaching hours in Arabic and well-being and sustainability, as well as continued investment in virtual reality and technology. Financial resource and workforce planning will continue to be a top priority for MENA schools in the years to come.”
Established in Yorkshire in 2009, the Skills Network is one of the leading providers of online learning in the UK, having grown into a significant supplier of technology-based learning solutions.
Serving the corporate, public and educational sectors, it claims to create high-quality learning experiences across a wide range of subject areas, with over 1.6 million learners using its learning portal, EQUAL, on a regular basis.
The Skills Network says its online distance-learning courses, staff-training programs and apprenticeship programs have helped businesses such as G4S, Thomson Reuters and the Trades Union Congress reach their training and development goals.
Such tools are vital in today’s world. According to a UN policy brief released in August 2020, the pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to education systems around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries.
In the MENA region alone, the health crisis was responsible for shutting down learning facilities for almost 100 million students aged between 5 and 17.
As a result, governments in the region, such as those of the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have increasingly been promoting a hybrid model of online and in-class education, with the Kingdom opening up its national education portal Ain to more than 6 million users and providing 30,000 devices for students in need at the time.
As far as the Middle East is concerned, the Skills Network says its team of experts is working on developing a more efficient educational system for the region.
Although still in the early stages of rolling its tool out to MENA schools, the team has already taken on board over 100 schools internationally in recent months.
“Over time, we have uncovered a demand from schools looking to identify specific subject and lesson costs across their curriculum,” Brown said.
“We have worked with our existing partners to develop the tool and provide further analytical insight to make targeted change, driven by the quality of teaching with students — providing better learner outcomes.”
The financial planning tool can be used in countries such as the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In the UK, it has provided average savings of £163,000 ($193,228) per secondary school annually.
“So, it’s a proven and robust asset to any international school across the globe,” Brown said. “Ultimately, students will benefit from an optimized teacher workforce and budget that can support high-quality education delivery.”
According to Ridge, of the Ras Al-Khaimah think tank, the situation is only getting worse for schools as many MENA countries experience high inflation owing to soaring food and fuel prices.
“For schools, this will be difficult, especially in the private sector where parents will also have less money to spend,” she said.
“I believe that the situation requires government support to help schools manage in this difficult time. It could get worse if left to market forces, but some intervention on the part of the government might help.”
She believes lower-income countries will benefit more from the new tools, although all stand to take advantage, and the assistance could not come at a better time.
“Such a heavy reliance on private, for-profit education means that market threats from increasing costs could lead to school closures, especially at the lower end of the market, which would hurt the poorest students,” Ridge said.
The Skills Network’s Brown says international schools in the MENA region are experiencing massive enrollment demand from local students and families. According to him, the international school learner profile has evolved over the years and become more localized than ever before.
Looking to the future, Brown said: “With the ongoing shift in learner profile comes new challenges and pressures on curriculum delivery and financial resources.
“It is of critical importance that schools in the MENA region are equipped with the technology required to meet these evolving needs.”