Country coordinates: Bahrain
Despite being one of the first in the Gulf region to discover and capitalise on its oil wealth, the small island state of Bahrain has fewer reserves than many of its neighbours. With the imminent risk that oil supplies could run out within a decade, Bahrain made economic diversification a priority and has progressively evolved to become a key regional centre for banking and finance. Although Bahrain is an Arabic country, English is used widely. The economy has been bolstered by an influx of migrant workers, who dominate the developing private sector while Bahrainis continue to show a preference for public sector work. Youth unemployment is a major concern, and ensuring that its young people have the skills to meet the needs of private sector employers is central to ongoing education reforms. The government is focusing on developing the quality of its provision, with the goal of raising Bahraini human capital to an international standard.
Education Intelligence identifies a few quick facts which present market opportunities in the Bahraini education sector:
Growing young population
At 1.32 million (2014), the population is small, but it has more than doubled since 2000 (World Bank). Since around 2008, the non-Bahraini population, which comprises both skilled and unskilled migrant workers, many of whom come from South Asia, has slightly outnumbered the national Bahraini population. Birth rates are much higher among the national population, which continues to grow at around 2.5 per cent annually (CIO). In 2014, 20.5 per cent of the population was aged 0-14 years, and 28.9 per cent were aged 15-29. As such, the population is young, with a median age of around 29. The population aged 0-4 is growing by around 3.6 per cent annually (UNESCO), and the student-age population is boosted by large numbers of non-Bahrainis, and males in particular, the largest shares of which are aged 25-39 (CIO).
Key development areas for GDP growth
In 2014, 56 per cent of GDP came from services, while 43 per cent came from industry and less than 0.5 per cent came from agriculture. With small oil reserves compared to its neighbours, economic diversification away from oil is a priority for Bahrain. The government set out its plans to boost the private sector and create a globalised, competitive economy in its Economic Vision 2030 plan. In recent years, economic growth has been driven by the non-oil sector, which has included logistics, transport, communications, manufacturing and consumer retail. In 2014, the fastest-growing markets were private education and health care, which grew by 8.3 per cent, as well as communications, transport, and construction. Bahrain has positioned itself as a regional centre for finance and is encouraging investment in education and training, ICT, manufacturing, logistics, financial services and professional and industrial services.
Prioritising technical and vocational skills
There is a tendency for Bahraini students to pursue non-technical programmes that are more suitable for the public sector and administration than the developing private sector. The high rate of youth unemployment (27.5 per cent) has been attributed to high graduate expectations, low perceptions of technical or vocational work, poor industry-relevant skills, education focused on public sector employment and a generous welfare state. In the effort to better support the skill needs of the growing private sector, the government is developing technical and vocational programmes tailored to private sector requirements. As one of the six pillars of the country’s economic development strategy, education and training focuses on creating a world-class education system, boosting creativity, fostering innovation and research and raising the employability of graduates. Implementing technical and vocational education from secondary level to higher education level, via the new Bahrain Polytechnic, is a priority.
Strong digital proficiency
Bahrain is a very well-developed digital media market, and almost all of the population (97% in mid-2014) are Internet users. Smartphone ownership is one of the highest in the region and was forecast to reach 90 per cent of the population in 2015. Connectivity is improving as LTE 4G and a national fibre-optic broadband network become available. According to the Sixth Arab Social Media Report, the number of Facebook users in Bahrain exceeded 500,000 in early 2014, representing a 20 per cent increase on the previous year. As such, 38.9 per cent of the population now uses Facebook, 52 per cent of whom are aged 15-29, more than two-thirds of whom are male, and 81 per cent of whom post in English. The majority of social media users (82%) access social media from a mobile device. Supported by the government’s commitment to digital governance and service provision, education reform includes e-learning initiatives.
With the Country Brief series, Education Intelligence presents the most up-to-date socio-demographic and economic profiles of featured countries, which are closely aligned with local education market development. To access a comprehensive market overview of Bahrain and inform internationalisation strategies for this market, the Country Brief is available for your use.