Country coordinates: Kuwait

A small, oil-rich state at the top of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is bordered by more economically and militarily powerful neighbours Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Following independence from the UK in the 1960s, Kuwait enjoyed an extended period of expansion on the back of oil revenues which helped to bring about rapid advances in human development despite the invasion by Iraq in 1991. Like many other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Kuwait relies on foreign labour, 69 per cent of whom work in the private sector compared to 9.8 per cent of Kuwaitis who prefer employment in the bloated public sector, where wages, benefits and social standing are higher. Although the government is aiming to address this disparity through training and incentives, further labour market reforms are needed. With its young population, education is a priority, and the government is looking to higher education and training as a means of boosting its human capital. A focus on raising higher education quality rather than expanding as a regional education hub has helped to drive interest from international students.

Education Intelligence identifies a few quick facts which present market opportunities in the Kuwaiti education sector:

Growing young population

Kuwait’s population has grown rapidly from around 1.6 million in the early 1990s, following the Iraqi invasion, to over four million, almost 70 per cent of whom are non-nationals. Although the fertility rate has fallen to around 2.6 births per woman in recent years (World Bank), there are strong incentives for nationals to have large families. As a result, the population is young with almost 50 per cent aged under 30 years. UNESCO forecasts that the population aged 0-4 is growing at around 3.5 per cent annually, compared to overall population growth of around 2.8 per cent. However, continued strong population growth is unsustainable, given the small land mass and the current low potential for private sector job creation. The large young population also creates challenges for the local education and health-care sectors, which have had to expand dramatically to meet increasing demand.

Key development areas for GDP growth

Overall, the oil sector accounts for around 60 per cent of GDP, and crude oil, refined oil, and petroleum gas account for almost 95 per cent of exports (World Bank). Outside of petrochemicals, key manufacturing areas include chemicals, plastics, and metals. In recent years, the non-oil sector has grown at a faster pace than the oil industry. Kuwait has developed a strong Islamic banking sector, and increasing wealth has driven the market for consumer goods and services, including retail, culture, and education. A large and bloated public sector is the primary employer for Kuwaiti nationals. The diversification agenda has become more important in recent years as oil-sector growth has slowed, although the government is still keen to increase oil production. Under its latest five-year development plan, the government aims to boost the private sector to 42 per cent of the economy, from the current 26 per cent and has prioritised areas such as construction and infrastructure, higher education and training, healthcare, ICT, tourism, and culture.

Plans to increase private sector employment

A firm preference for public sector employment among Kuwaitis drives high levels of unemployment and low levels of labour participation. In 2014, while the vast majority of non-nationals were in employment, just 37.6 per cent of Kuwaiti females and 54.2 per cent of Kuwaiti males participated in the labour force. A labour force survey found that 69 per cent of non-nationals worked in the private sector compared to 9.8 per cent of Kuwaitis. Local women, in particular, are more likely to be in public sector employment which has more prestige, better wages, and benefits. The government aims to address the workforce imbalance via nationalisation measures and a special restructuring program which is intended to boost Kuwaitis’ skills and increase private sector employment.

Strong growth in private education provision

The government has responded to the rising demand for education by promoting and incentivising private provision. Over the past decade, private enrolments have increased at a much faster pace than public enrolments, reflecting both the growing non-national population and increasing demand for private and international education among Kuwaitis. In 2013-2014, 40.8 per cent of school enrolments were in the private sector, including 48 per cent of pre-primary enrolments, 43 per cent of primary enrolments, 36 per cent of lower-secondary enrolments and 38 per cent of upper-secondary enrolments (CSB). Private schools are predominantly international institutions offering foreign curricula targeting the non-national population, although there are also local private schools. All private schools charge fees, which are often high at top institutions. As the young population has expanded and education attainment has risen, the higher education sector has also grown rapidly along with the development of private higher education.

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. 


27/04/2017 - 03:24