Most trusted Name in the NRI media
Serving over 22 millions NRIs worldwide

Education in the Gulf: The Invisible Hand of Sunny Varkey

December 30th, 2004

Is the rise of for-profit education systems good news for the Arab world?
Article by Nicholas Nesson

Meet Sunny Varkey, a Dubai-based entrepreneur who made his fortune with for-profit elementary schools in the UAE, and whose company also owns a construction firm and hospitals. “We take care of you,” says the founder of the Varkey Group, “from the cradle to the grave.”

The Indian-born Varkey is the child of school teachers who first arrived in Dubai in 1959 – a time when emirate life was little more than desert, with scattered developments along the coast and inland. Varkey’s parents shortly began teaching English to local students in Bur Dubai, for a fee of 25 Indian rupees per month, and that small business grew into Our Own English High School, which was founded in 1968. Meanwhile, young Sunny was studying at a boarding school in India, then went on to complete his education in Britain.

In 1977, Varkey returned to Dubai. After a stint at a local bank, he opened a small trading company, then became part owner of the Dubai Plaza Hotel. Meanwhile, Varkey’s parents continued to teach English at their makeshift institution until, in the early 1980s, the Dubai authorities told them that they either had to construct a purpose-built facility or shut down. That’s when Sunny stepped in – and took the first small steps towards building his vast fortune.

Today, Varkey’s for-profit educational empire – run under his Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) business unit – stretches across much of the globe. Described as “an educational management and consultancy and systems provider, offering total education management solutions,” GEMS manages schools in the UAE, Qatar, India and Britain, and is looking to expand in the near future to the United States.

Varkey’s venture has proved highly controversial in Britain, where local councils are objecting to his plans and have proved hostile to any form of competition to state-run education. While the Blair government has been pushing for private-public partnerships in a range of sectors – and while a recent poll in Britain showed that 53 percent would opt out of public education if they could afford to – doubts have been raised about how GEMS schools can compete on both price and quality. In Britain, independent school fees can exceed £20,000 a year; Varkey’s schools will charge as little as £5,000. How, critics ask, does Sunny Varkey do it?





Any comments on this article or you have any news: Click here

Disclaimer will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. We reserve the right to edit comments that are published.