Sydney School of Education and Social Work events – 2015 Archive

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Economy, business and first class


12 December 2016

A presentation by the Comparative and International Education research network.

Because of its unique demographic mix, the United Arab Emirates home to one of the largest (percentage wise) private-education sectors in the world, with more children attending private schools than public schools. Due to a lack of regulations regarding the profit status of schools, the country has become a fertile breeding ground for for-profit education providers at all levels of the education system. While some providers come from abroad, several have started in the UAE and now operate schools all over the world. GEMS Education is one such company, and it is both the largest provider of private education in the UAE and the largest private education management company in the world with annual revenue of almost $US700m. Through its 47 schools in the UAE, GEMS Education is now educating about one-quarter of the school-aged population in the country. However, its operations have greatly expanded since its first school in Dubai, and GEMS now operates more than 40 schools in countries such as the US and UK, Kenya and India. The company is also actively lobbying for access to other markets, including Australia, through its connection to high-profile individuals such as the former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, who acts an official adviser to the company.

    "We adopted the airline model of economy, business and first class to make top-notch education available based on what families could afford." — Sunny Varkey, founder and managing director of GEMS Education

This presentation examines the GEMS group, its operations; philosophy of education; and current and potential impact on stakeholders and education systems. The presenter will argue that GEMS Education has has philosophies and practices that lead to social segregation, and widening disparities between rich and poor. As well, its operations undermine the fundamental concept of education as a human right. The presentation is based on a recently published book chapter of the same title. It uses data from document and network analysis, as well as interviews to provide a comprehensive picture of a company that may well be a harbinger of radical change in how education is viewed globally.

Event details

  • When: 2–4pm

  • Where: Room 612, Education Building A35, Manning Rd, University of Sydney
    Education Building A35
    Click image for interactive map.

  • Cost: Free

  • RSVP: RSVP by emailing Dr Matthew AM Thomas.

  • Contact: Dr Matthew AM Thomas
    T: +61 2 8627 4304

  • Presenter: Natasha Ridge is executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Prior to this, she was the acting director of research at the Dubai School of Government. Dr Ridge has a number of publications, including a book entitled Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local. Her additional publications include chapters in the World Education Yearbook and in publications of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and UNESCO as well as working papers for the Dubai School of Government and the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Dr Ridge holds a doctorate of education in international education policy from Columbia University and a master's in international and community development from Deakin University, Australia. She is also a founding board member and former president of the Gulf Comparative Education Society. Her latest research focuses on the educational aspirations and choices of young men in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab migrant teachers, and access and equity in private education in the GCC.

Economy, business and first class: the implications of for-profit education provision in the UAE and beyond

Where Room 612, Education Building A35, Manning Rd, University of Sydney
Education Building A35
Click image for interactive map.


12 December 2016

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