Posts Tagged ‘UAE’

The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the world’s most important and well visited book fairs. It has emerged as a key forum to define the agenda for the global publishing industry. This year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be a featured market. As a featured market, the UAE will have the opportunity to showcase its growing publishing industry, expand trade links, and attract foreign investment from international publishers and retailers.

In the run up to the event, Tahseen Consulting was asked by the Frankfurt Book Fair organizers to contribute its thoughts on the key challenges facing the UAE publishing industry. For over a decade, Tahseen Consulting has been involved in many of the Arab region’s initiatives to enhance the competitiveness of domestic publishing industries. We have conducted several regional and country level analyses on the challenges facing domestic publishing industries in the Arab World such as our landmark publication on Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry which supported the Saudi Publishers Association’s promotion as a full member of the International Publishers Association.

We are honored to have contributed our thoughts on the key challenges the UAE publishing industry must address to consolidate and build on the significant growth the industry has experienced over the last several years. At Frankfurt Book Fair, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer Walid Aradi will be discussing these challenges as well as potential market opportunities in more depth.

Key Challenges the UAE Publishing Industry Must Address in its Next Growth Phase

Just four decades ago, 48% of Emiratis were illiterate. Today, the illiteracy rate has dropped below 1% due to the United Arab Emirates’ focus on improving access to quality education for all. The United Arab Emirates’ significant educational, social, and economic gains, have produced an increasingly globalized and educated population eager to consume more locally produced and culturally-relevant content, particularly in Arabic. In the last decade, a small, enterprising national publishing industry has sprung up to meet this growing demand.

The United Arab Emirates’ publishing industry is evolving at a transformative time –publishers are faced with the challenge of redefining an industry which has traditionally focused on ink-to-paper content by finding new and innovative ways to merge high-value Arabic content and technology to meet evolving reader demand. Despite the youth of its publishing industry, the United Arab Emirates has the potential to become a global hub for international and regional publishers, distributors, and other complementary creative sectors. The industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12% to 2030. However, additional growth could be achieved if several industry concerns are addressed.

Enhancing export competitiveness of Emirati publishers

In 2014, book exports from the UAE were $40 million versus imports of $126 million based on the most recent customs data available. Over the last decade UAE book exports have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 1%, while imports have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 8%. Book publishing has so far failed to contribute to the diversification of the United Arab Emirates’ exports. These statistics show that the UAE publishing industry remains insular and inward looking primarily due to its youth. The low number of titles produced in the UAE, estimated at approximately 500 titles per year and unique demographic structure, partially explains the imbalance between book import and exports, but the industry faces a range of other significant challenges that reduce export competitiveness.

Though changing due to increased participation in international book fairs, the international publishing community still has little awareness of the emerging UAE publishing industry. A growing portion of UAE titles are of sufficient quality and appeal for global export. For example, Emirati-authored books now make up 11% of the top-selling Arabic books in the UAE, and Kalimat’s children’s book Tongue Twists was recently awarded the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Award. However, international publishers and literary agents still remain largely unaware of UAE published titles. An interesting initiative by Spain, called New Spanish Books, which provides an online guide of titles from Spanish publishers and literary agents available for foreign rights sales, is potentially a program that could be replicated in the UAE to increase awareness of the titles of Emirati publishers with export potential. At the most foundational level, enhancing export competitiveness of publishers will require an industry wide effort that brings together government entities that are concerned with the promotion of cultural industries and economic diversification as well as civil society institutions like the Emirates Publishers Association, and publishers.

At the publisher level, two significant issues must be addressed: enhancing the market responsiveness of domestic publishers to operationally respond to the internationalization and globalization of the publishing industry and building the capacity of domestic publishers to access international markets through translation, selling foreign rights, and international marketing and promotion. While use of Arabic is a common denominator which promotes export to other countries in the Arab World, export statistics show that UAE books also have a broader appeal in countries such as the UK, US, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Though there are several government backed industry support initiatives, such as translation and rights trading grants, more comprehensive publishing industry support programs, potentially similar to the Canada Book Fund, could be more impactful in increasing the export competitiveness of domestic publishers and addressing firm-specific challenges that limit export capacity.

Strengthening the domestic production of learning materials

Approximately 54% of UAE book imports are textbooks primarily from the UK and US. Imported textbooks generally cover science and mathematics subjects while domestically produced textbooks, which are primarily published by the Ministry of Education, cover humanities and religion subjects.

Emerging research on textbooks and their relationship to learning outcomes suggests a link between textbook design features, student reading levels, and student performance – engaging textbook content with practical application to students’ lives influences reading of textbooks which ultimately affects student learning outcomes. In this way, the high portion of imported textbooks and regional textbooks which lag socio-cultural development, combined with other factors like poor quality teaching, may ultimately be having a significantly negative effect on student learning outcomes.

Evidence of this complex linkage is potentially found in the UAE’s performance on the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study in which the UAE ranked 40th out of 45 countries in terms of average reading achievement at the 4th grade level. Because of the influence that learning and teaching materials have on learning outcomes and reading skills, a key challenge which must be addressed is ensuring that educational materials are appropriate to the local context and do not perpetuate cultural and gender stereotypes which are at odds with evolving national values.

The production of quality, Arabic children’s books and digital content is also essential to complement Arabic teaching with age-appropriate, culturally relevant material to inspire children and help educators teach more effectively. While recent studies have shown that children would prefer to read in Arabic, the lack of genre diversity available in Arabic children’s books and online content forces children to consume English publications and media. For this reason, many children have come to perceive reading in Arabic as difficult and boring.

Many UAE publishers have begun to focus on publishing books and digital content for children, but there still remains a shortage of children’s publications in genres such as fairy tales, fantasy, suspense, action, and science fiction. The lack of engaging Arabic children’s books and online content reinforces the use of English and consumption of English language media in the classroom and at home which serves to further erode Arabic proficiency. More diversity in Arabic children’s books can enrich learning, allow children to build on what they learn at school through self-directed reading, and enable parents to complement the role of teachers by reading to their children and encouraging reading for pleasure.

Enhanced capacity of domestic publishers to compete in the educational publishing market is critically important to ensure that Arabic retains its role as a foundation of national identity and to ensure future generations are capable and proficient at leveraging Arabic as an effective tool. Publishers have a very important role in reversing the deterioration of Arabic skills by developing quality Arabic teaching and learning materials that engage students and support teachers in developing Arabic proficiency.

Building a national culture of reading

Though improving, several studies have found that a national culture of reading for pleasure is still in its early stages. These studies point to a range of issues from household access to books to low involvement of parents in building early childhood reading skills. Beginning in the late-2000s, a number of emirate-level initiatives sprung up to address national reading challenges. While the extent and breadth of these initial efforts to address national reading challenges was ambitious, collaboration and coordination across the many entities and initiatives was lacking. For this reason, the National Reading Law was passed in 2016 to ensure the sustainability of government efforts to build a reading culture and clarify the objectives of government agencies in promoting reading.

The National Reading Law is the foundation for the National Reading Strategy which is backed by $30 million in funding earmarked for 30 national initiatives to support reading and lifelong learning as national values. The National Reading Strategy also deemed 2016 the Year of Reading. The Year of Reading Initiative involves more than 340 major reading initiatives and activities taking place across the country involving over 100 local government entities working in co-ordination with the Higher Supervisory Committees for Year of Reading. The UAE has come a long way in defining a common agenda for promoting a national culture of reading based on localizing promising international best practices.

Best PracticeIndicative UAE Programs
Giving readers choice* Knowledge Without Borders’ Home Libraries Initiative
* Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation My Family Reads Program
Incentives and awards* Arab Reading Challenge
* Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development Reading Creative Award
Ensuring an enabling home environment* Ajman Department of Culture and Community Development My Family Reads Initiative
* Fujairah Department of Economic Development‘s Book in Every Home Initiative
Support from schools* Abu Dhabi Reads Campaign
* Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s #10Minutes10Days challenge
Accessible, modern school and public libraries* Knowledge With Borders and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority mobile library programs
* Mohammed bin Rashid Library which will be the biggest library in the Arab World
* Ministry of Education’s reading corner, reading club, and Darfa platform

Ensuring that implementation of GCC VAT does not negatively affect the industry

In February 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries agreed to introduce a Value Added Tax (VAT) at a rate of 5% in January 2018. While the education sector will be exempt from VAT, which will presumably be extended to textbooks and educational materials, it remains unclear how trade books and the raw materials for publishing will be treated under the new VAT system.

Currently, the UAE does not impose customs on imported books and printed goods. A key question that must be addressed as e-commerce grows in the UAE and global and regional online marketplaces increase book and digital content sales is how VAT and customs should be imposed on online transactions in the UAE. A still larger question is whether trade book imports and sales should be exempted from VAT altogether. Another issue that warrants discussion are potential customs and VAT exemptions for critical publishing industry inputs such as paper. Despite these large uncertainties facing the publishing industry surrounding VAT, there have been no policy impact studies conducted by the industry. There are several significant questions surrounding the imposition of VAT on the publishing industry and e-commerce transactions that remain unanswered.

Tahseen Consulting’s research on labor market requirements in the UAE’s Islamic finance sector was cited again in the Gulf News’ article Islamic Finance Talent Gap to Reach 8,000 Plus.

Last year we projected that another $87 to $124 billion could potentially enter the Islamic banking system in the UAE by 2015 which will create approximately 7,800 new jobs at Islamic banks in the UAE. By 2015, the UAE’s Islamic financial services sector will likely double in size from approximately 10,000 employees currently to 20,000.

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Tahseen Consulting’s work on identifying skills shortages in the Islamic finance sector in the UAE has been frequently cited by the media and in the run up to the Global Islamic Economy Summit

Tahseen Consulting’s work on identifying skills shortages in the Islamic finance sector in the UAE has been frequently cited by the media and in the run up to the Global Islamic Economy Summit

Walid Aradi outlines why local banks have been gaining market share from international competitors in the UAE

When it comes to business news and regional economic analysis, government and business leaders in the GCC turn to Gulf Business. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work highlighted in the publication’s October issue. We have posted the full article below.

Recently, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer, Walid Aradi, spoke with Ryan Harrison from Gulf Business regarding his thoughts on the competitive landscape evolving in the UAE retail and commercial banking sector. In a wide-ranging discussion, Aradi explained some of the reasons why local banks such as Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Emirates NBD, Mashreq, and First Gulf bank have been performing well while internationals have been downsizing their operations.

Gulf Business: What is driving this shift and how long will it continue?

Aradi: As a consequence of the economic crisis, some international outfits reassessed their presence in the region and redirected their resources back to their home markets, as they were seeking to limit their exposure, focus on rebuilding their competitive advantage in their home countries, and improve their balance sheets. This left the local banks, which came off a period of consolidation, ready to pick up the slack should the economic conditions improve.

With economic growth hovering around 4%, and an increased appetite to lend due to the introduction of loan caps and more defined lending criteria, banks in the UAE responded to the increased pace in government infrastructure projects by aggressively marketing their existing products, and offering new ones.

Gulf Business: How much business is for the taking?

Aradi: The UAE Monthly Banking Indicators, published by the Central Bank, show that despite experiencing modest year on year growth of 2.6% in 2012 in loans and advances, the increase in the first seven months of 2013 exceeded 4.3%. Championing this growth were local banks such as ADCB, Emirates NBD, Mashreq and First Gulf banks, which competed aggressively to fill the gap left behind by the downsizing of operations among some international banks.

While local banks managed to increase their share of the corporate and consumer lending markets, they will find it increasingly difficult to maintain past levels of profitability. This is because while the growth in the economy is expected to be solid over the next two years, it will not reach the spectacular levels posted in 2005 or 2007, thus limiting the ability of local banks to expand their revenues. Additionally, changes to capital and liquidity requirements have raised cost pressures on the banking sector.

Gulf Business: How can local banks improve their products and services to build their corporate lending business?

Aradi: To maintain their margins, local banks must bolster their revenues by expanding their product offerings, enhancing services to higher margin segments of the business, building upon their knowledge of the local market from operational and marketing perspectives, attracting global talent, and forming alliances with global banks to overcome their limited international footprint. On the other hand, local banks should aggressively pursue reforms to their business strategies by enhancing their systems and moving towards more efficient payment infrastructures.

Without fully capitalizing on the opportunity to solidify their place in the market, local banks will find themselves having to fend off pressures from global banks when their appetite to invest in emerging markets returns as a consequence of improved market conditions in their home countries.

When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on Islamic finance highlighted in the publication’s August issue. We have posted the full article below.

Recently, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on the evolution of Islamic finance in the UAE. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje laid out a broad vision of the future, the need to benchmark best practices for other financial hubs, and how human capital is essential to the UAE’s aspirations.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What factors have contributed to the development of Islamic finance in the UAE and in Abu Dhabi in particular?

Schwalje: The global growth of Islamic finance, which has considerably outpaced conventional banking, is a primary factor behind the UAE’s desire to develop its Islamic banking sector. With the exception of Oman, which only recently ratified its regulatory framework for Islamic finance, the UAE has the lowest concentration of Islamic banking assets as a portion of total banking assets in the GCC. However, the UAE has the highest total banking assets in the GCC. This presents an opportunity for the UAE to unseat some of its competitors in the region, most notably Bahrain, as well as attract international assets to become both the primary financial and Islamic banking hub in the GCC. At the moment Dubai Islamic banks hold 50% of Sharia compliant assets in the UAE while Abu Dhabi banks hold 40%. Abu Dhabi entered the Islamic banking sector with the establishment of Abu Dhabi Islamic bank 22 years after the establishment the UAE’s first Islamic bank the Dubai Islamic Bank. Abu Dhabi is now trying to position itself, as well as the UAE as a whole, as both a financial and Islamic banking hub that has world class, robust institutions, markets, infrastructure, and regulation. Federal level intervention to establish and effective legal framework and infrastructure for Islamic finance will have a positive impact on both Dubai and Abu Dhabi which potentially will draw international banks with Islamic banking windows and other conventional institutions to offer Sharia compliant products.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How have laws pertaining to Islamic financing developed in Abu Dhabi to help Islamic financial institutions and what laws are needed to help develop it into an Islamic finance hub?

Schwalje: All banks in the UAE operate under the provisions of Federal Law No. 6 of 1985 Regarding Islamic Banks, Financial Institutions and Investment Companies which vests the Central Bank with licensing, supervision, and inspection powers. This law was passed 28 years ago, while the Islamic banking industry has evolved significantly since then. I view four areas of reform as critical to the success of the UAE: Broadening International Financial Activities which requires reform of laws pertaining to cross-border foreign exchange flows, capital mobility, financial intermediation, clearing systems, and active exchanges. Increasing the diversity of market participants which will require reforms related to diversity of financial providers, strengthening institutions, and increasing public understanding of Sharia compliant product. Product Innovation is required in the UAE and the region in particular. This will include developing the capabilities at the federal or institutional level to expand the use and types of Sharia compliant products available as well as promote flexibility in structuring financial products.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What other new products do Islamic institutions in the UAE need to develop to grow?

Schwalje: The UAE is a leader in Sharia compliant Islamic bonds. However, there are a whole host of other products which are available in other Islamic hubs which are less developed in the UAE. This included trade and lease financing products for businesses. Wealth management, retirement and healthcare financing, and debt financing for households are not as developed as elsewhere globally. Finally, many equity financing and capital market products which would facilitate economic diversification into high –value added industries, attract FDI, and funds from international capital markets are still underdeveloped.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are the main challenges facing Islamic financial institutions in the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular? 

Schwalje: Talent attraction and development is single most worrisome challenge to the evolution of Islamic banking not only in the UAE but globally. Based on our projections, we estimate that a another $71 billion could potentially enter the Islamic banking system in the UAE by 2015 which would create approximately 7,800 new jobs at Islamic banks in the UAE assuming current asset concentration ratios remain similar. We also project another 500 jobs will be created by 2015 in other Islamic financial services segments. By 2015, the Islamic financial services sector will double in size from approximately 10,000 employees currently to 20,000.

To meet this growing demand for employees trained in Islamic finance, the UAE will need to significantly broaden its education and training options to ensure availability of human capital does not stall the growth of the sector. While it has a number of current executive training institutions and higher education institutions that target mid-level employees in the Islamic finance sector, the UAE does not have any programs that target new entrants interested in the field or senior level leaders. The UAE also does not have institutions which provide research and analysis that advances the field. The experiences of Bahrain and Malaysia show that research capabilities and institutions have been key structural feature of Islamic banking systems that lead to product innovation and effective regulation. Furthermore, many of the masters programs in Islamic banking and finance in the UAE remain general MBAs or masters degrees with very few specialized courses related to practical aspects of Islamic banking that are required by employers. The exceptions are Zayed University and Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University which have in-depth course offerings in Islamic finance and economics.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How can the setting up of a new financial center in Abu Dhabi help Islamic financial institutions and the industry as a whole?

Schwalje: The UAE’s largest Islamic banks do not presently operate in financial centers. However, the Abu Dhabi World Financial Market has the potential to attract regional banks from the GCC as well as international banks who want to enter the UAE market. The new financial center also has the potential to enhance the diversity of financial providers in the sector by attracting non-banking financial companies such as mutual funds, insurance companies, and other institutions. However, it is unclear to what extent such a center will be able to operate independently of federal laws which very clearly convey the powers of licensing, supervision, and inspection of Islamic financial institutions to the Central Bank.

Quality of education is a broad concept that involves constant development of curricula, processes and learning environments. While many of the efforts aimed at improving education in the GCC have revolved around enhancing curriculums and teacher training, little has been done to enhance school facilities to handle the changing needs of these economies. Research in a number of countries has shown that maintaining the quality of school facilities is important to enhancing overall education output as it affects the health of students, absenteeism rates, staff turnover, and student academic performance. To enhance the overall output of their education systems, countries in the region should focus on modernizing their school facilities.

Data released in 2011 by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai indicates that a large percentage of public schools in the emirate have insufficient learning facilities. While no similar data exists for other GCC countries, we have reason to believe that this challenge is regional, rather than specific to Dubai in particular or the UAE as a whole.

Aside from denying students the chance to receive quality education, deteriorating facilities in public schools are also contributing to surging private schools fees in the UAE.. This is due to substitution behavior that results in education cost inflation: For example, in Dubai, parents, both Emirati and expatriate, seeking the best educational outcomes for their children are increasingly selecting private schools which are able to increase fees based on performance and inflation ranging from 3-6%. Higher performing schools can also apply for additional increases to carry out infrastructure or facility upgrades. While the intention of such a policy is to reward performance, the risk is continuing poor facilities in public schools due to the inability of public schools to shift the costs of facilities upgrades and maintenance onto consumers.

Public schools rely on federal and emirate-level budgets faced with multiple spending priorities, while private schools have an economic and profitability incentive to maintain and improve facilities. Facilities improvements in public schools require either a larger budgetary line item for education or an annual extra budgetary allocation devoted specifically to facilities maintenance which goes beyond financing of public schools’ day-to-day operations. This situation has created a situation in which private schools can raise fees since they face little competitive pressure from the UAE’s public schooling system that might temper education inflation. More importantly, such measures have the potential to create a two track system in which the UAE’s public schools continue to have inferior facilities and lower educational outcomes while the market and regulatory mechanism allows select private schools, which are predominantly attended by expatriate children, to pass on the costs of facilities improvements to parents and ultimately employers.

We estimate that the cost to modernize existing public schools in the UAE will require an investment of $1.35 billion which does not factor in ongoing maintenance or expansion to accommodate rising enrollments. To put things in perspective that is about 61% of the annual federal budget for K-12 education, which does not include emirate level line item spending for education since these amounts are not published.

These problems demand a strong and sustained partnership of federal and emirate entities in concert with the private sector since employers, through rising wages associated with employee education entitlements, are also affected. Modern public school education facilities are essential to create the schools the UAE needs to compete in the 21st century while ensuring equity and heading off education inflation. Investment in the UAE’s public schools is also a mechanism for job creation. Based on analogous figures from the American Jobs Act for Rebuilding and Modernizing America’s Schools, each $78,000 spent on school modernization leads to a job. An extremely conservative calculation, since wage levels in the construction industry are substantially lower in the UAE, would mean that approximately 17,000 jobs would be created in the process of modernizing the UAE’s public schooling system. Our methodology for deriving these figures are shown below with additional information on the UAE’s public school funding challenge.

Insufficient public school facilities in Dubai

A large percentage of public schools in Dubai have insufficient learning facilities; Emirati students make up nearly all of the students who attend these schools
Source: Knowledge and Human Development Authority 2011 Annual Inspection Report

Public schools in the UAE have a failing report card

Public schools have a failing report card when it comes to maintaining the UAE’s school buildings in Dubai; This is because their budgets don’t factor in spending on facilities
Sources: Knowledge and Human Development Authority 2011 Annual Inspection Report, Gulf News, OECD
Assumptions: * Assuming an average of 288 Emiratis attending each public school in Dubai
* *Assuming each student requires 10 square meters of space, public schools average 344 students, each square meter costs AED 7,500 to develop, and approximately 33 schools need modernization

Emirati public school enrollment in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the Western Region

Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the Western Region are more dependent on public schools than Dubai to educate Emiratis
Source: Abu Dhabi Education Council 2010 Statistical Factbook Emirate of Abu Dhabi

Insufficient public school facilities in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the Western Region

If facility lifecycles in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are similar to Dubai, a number of public schools attended by Emirati students have insufficient learning facilities requiring major spending
Sources: Abu Dhabi Education Council 2010 Statistical Factbook Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Gulf News, OECD
Assumptions: * Assuming that a high estimate of the number of schools which require refurbishment is similar to the 42% which require facilities improvement in Dubai
** Assuming an average of 354 Emiratis attend each public school in Abu Dhabi, an average 304 Emiratis attend each public school in Al Ain, and an average of 152 Emiratis attend each public school in the Western Region
*** Assuming each student requires 10 square meters of space, public schools average 489 students in Abu Dhabi, 397 students in Al Ain, and 255 students in the Western Region, each square meter costs AED 7,500 to develop, and approximately 54 schools in Abu Dhabi, 55 schools in Al Ain, and 19 schools in the Western Region need modernization