Dubai: Alternative Destination for Boarding Schools

Located near the waterfront of Al Jaddaf, are the blocks of the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), which prides itself for its state-of-the-art STEAM education, and world-class sporting facilities. The Swiss School is one of the region’s only IB boarding schools, has around 2000 students, including 100 of them full boarding with the expectation that the capacity reaches to 150 students by next year. Boarding options are also offered by Repton in Abu Dhabi and there are speculations that more boarding schools might be coming. EdDesign Mag talked with experts about the promising market for the boarding format. 

The school is the first of its kind in Dubai as it offers day school, weekly or full-term boarding options, and one of the only two boarding schools in the UAE. Students can learn English, French, German and Arabic, in which they can be part of the immersive bilingual programmes to learn to communicate, think and reflect in two different languages.

Photo: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)


The sporting facilities include a 400m running track, a fully sized theater hall, an Olympic- sized swimming pool, a full-sized Techno Gym and a cardio suite. The school and its boarding homes are designed by U+A @egis group, a company known for their innovation, quality designs and sustainable buildings. The owner of the school wanted it built based on his old Swiss boarding school but with a modern twist.

The Swiss school is one of the region’s only IB boarding schools, has around 2000 students, including 100 of them full boarding with the expectation that the capacity reaches to 150 students by next year.


Families send their children to Dubai for boarding because we do not have the social issues that some of the boarding schools have. For some, boarding their children could be the first step to them moving to Dubai.
Alison Roberts, Head of Marketing and Admissions at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai
Alison Roberts

There are various reasons why students decide to board in the school but whatever they are, they include fun. Students who board the school under grade 11 and 12, share a room with their colleague. Whilst those above those grades stay alone. Each floor has a teacher who stays with the student. There is a boarding council, each plays a role in the student’s life including having an in-house parents. Moreover, students have agency within the boarding option, they get to choose where to go for trips and help shape the food menu. 

“The thing about boarding is the question of how to give students independence under a safety net,” said Roberts. 


The boarding buildings combined sq:ft total 103,726, they have community rooms, pantries, group study rooms and tutor apartments in the buildings beside the student rooms.  Each building's estimated construction cost was AED 32M excluding the furnishing cost which was  AED 2M-3M. The school believes each building's total estimated cost is AED 35M which makes it total AED 70M for both buildings.


The buildings have state of art firefighting and MEP systems installed, the building material and furniture were imported from different parts of the world which makes it much more expensive to maintain than any other standard building. The buildings are built in a hotel style.

Photo: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)


There are running costs of 24/7 staff, 7 days a week dining hall, security, laundry facilities and laundry staff, room cleaning staff, matrons, nurses, and pastoral support teams are much more than normal staff costs in a school.  

The boarding of the school has no alarm, but a radio that goes off in each room until students click on their app that they are awake. Through the app, students can ask their parents for permission to leave the premises to go shopping or any other activity.

“From a teenager’s perspective, this is heaven, you are boarded in Dubai, an interactive city,” Roberts added. The cost to send the students to these boarding schools starts at 188, 000 AED per annum (all inclusive) for Grade 6 boarding students. 

Photo: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)


SISD, opened in 2015, and is the largest Swiss school outside Switzerland. The founder of the Swiss school who is a Swiss businessman, who went to boarding school in Switzerland, wanted an option for his children in Dubai which inspired him to start the school. Repton school in Abu Dhabi that established its presence in 2018 offers full, weekly or flexible boarding accommodation to girls and boys aged 11 to 18. There are speculations that a 3rd boarding school will open its premises in the UAE; however, it is unclear if these are true. King’s Academy Amman is the leading boarding school in the region.


“The market for boarding schools in Dubai is promising,” said Maria Cameron, an education expert.


“It is driven by the city's cosmopolitan nature and the increasing value placed on quality international education. However, it’s not developed yet to its full potential due to rather low demand. People would still prefer to choose the UK, the US or Europe. But looking at the global dynamics overall, the educational centers could be shifted in the future,” she added.

Photo: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)


For example, there’s a noticeable demand for universities in Dubai, however, just a couple of years ago, the picture was absolutely different, Cameron said. 

Experts believe that the market is not big enough to attract the minimum number of students required to have a successful school, which is at least 300 to 400 students. 


“The reason why we are not attracting such number of students, it is due to that fact, the region is not matured a destination for boarding schools and the boarding schools in the region are not established compared to such school worldwide which has 100 of years history,” explained Mansoor Ahmed, Executive Director (MEA Region) and Head of Education, Healthcare & PPP at Colliers.


Ahmed said that  Dubai and other regional destinations will evolve to establish boarding schools, but due to lack of 100 years of history, which will come in time, the boarding schools should focus on cultural, heritage, sports and other extracurricular activities which are missing in the UK due to cold weather. 

Photo: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)


“What we are experience, especially in Dubai is, there are number of family who are moving to Dubai to better education and healthcare facility and due to various economical and political issues in their home countries from Asia, Arab countries, Europe and Africa, when they move here they move with their family, while the husbands / fathers may still be working in their home countries. So they are buying houses in Dubai. While the major decision could be safety of the family, better healthcare and education, but they are buying houses instead of putting their kids into a boarding school,” added Ahmed to elaborate on why boarding schools remain questionable in the region. 



December 2023

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