The Economic Times (August 25, 2004) reports,
After taking Britain’s education market by storm with ambitious plans to build or manage 200 schools in the next five years, the Dubai-based Varkey Group’s Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) is heading back home, to India. Sunny Varkey, the Indian chairman of the Varkey Group, plans to have 100 schools in India under the GEMS banner in the next few years. “We are now looking at establishing a network of GEMS schools in both India and the United States and are speaking with a number of individuals and organisations who would like GEMS to manage schools in India,” says Mr Varkey. The group is also in talks with potential partners in countries including some in Latin America, Europe and China. “The opportunity for private education exists everywhere in the world,” says Mr Varkey, who claims that the group is probably among the largest education companies in the world.A news report (dated September 10, 2003) says GEMS opened an office in Pune in India.
GEMS has already begun to make inroads into India with agreements to manage a premium school in Noida; another in Peddapuram, Andhra Pradesh; and a girl’s school in Jalandhar. This apart, it is building two schools (in Gurgaon and Bangalore) as reference sites to showcase GEMS education, practice and quality assurance programmes.
The group has also been approached by the Delhi government to develop a quality framework for publicly-funded schools. Considering the huge global shortage of teachers, a teacher training college in India is also on the cards. “We are speaking to the University of London to work in association with us on this project,” says Mr Varkey.
I haven't been able to find any information on their schools in either Noida, Peddapuram or Jalandhar or their work for the Delhi Government.
Initially, GEMS schools will focus on the premium end of the market as “India has entered a new era of economic growth, and with that comes an increased need for providing world class, international education, within the country,” says Mr Varkey. However, it will develop schools targeted at the middle-income segment in the second phase.
Most other groups too have entered the field of education (DPS, Reliance, Birlas and others) by targeting the premium end of the market. The Tatas are the only ones looking to target the middle-income segment by providing quality education at an affordable price.
To develop GEMS in India, the group has put together a team of professionals including John Mason, former head of the Doon School; and RC Bhargava, former MD of Maruti Udyog. “Like we’ve done in the Middle East, we are looking at a long-term commitment to developing quality education in various parts of India,” says Mr Varkey.
As part of its international expansion plans, Global Education Management Systems GEMS, a member of the Varkey Group, has expanded its management team by hiring John Marshall as Business Development Manager and John Mason as Head of Asian Schools-South Asia and Middle East. Earlier this year, GEMS launched its UK and European operations with the opening of a London office and augmented its activities in India with a new office in Pune.Another article in The Economic Times (September 24, 2004) has more.
Where [Ray] Kroc [founder of McDonald's] saw assembly lines of hamburgers, Varkey sees a network of hundreds, and eventually thousands, of schools criss-crossing the continents — from the Americas to Afghanistan, Britain to India and China. In the next 20-25 years, he’s targeting over 5,000 Varkey group schools.Varkey has perceived the school education opportunity well and seems to be systematically going about setting the foundation for his company to exploit the opportunity. The credibility and experience they have gained by running the chain of schools in Dubai mean that they are a serious player and not someone who is jumping in without a clue. While there are global majors in other infrastructure sectors, it is surprising that there are none yet in the Education sector. Varkey seems to be the first player to set his sights on the global market and is already one of the biggest education companies in the world.
“I believe the opportunity for private education exists everywhere in the world. Parents and students are looking for alternatives to publicly-funded education... there is tremendous scope,” says Varkey, speaking from his suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London. “We are primarily interested in managing schools. We will follow a franchising model, but we’d like to manage it (the schools) as we’ve built a lot of goodwill over the years.”
The Varkey education empire, to which over 80% of the group’s business is dedicated, began in the early 1980s when Sunny took over management of his parent’s Our Own English High School in Dubai. At the time, the school had 720 students and 27 teachers. Today, he oversees a growing network of 35 international schools employing over 4,000 professionals and providing education to more than 45,000 students. The Varkey group is one of the largest non-national business groups in the United Arab Emirates.
Following the hotel industry model, GEMS schools will be categorised literally as three, four, or five-star. “We have developed school models that are designed to deliver quality education combined with facilities and fee structures to meet the requirements of any community,” says Varkey. The schools all provide the same standard of quality, differing only in the levels of facilities offered.
Another hallmark of GEMS’ education will be its emphasis on communication and interaction between school and home. In the UK, for instance, parents will not only get weekly or fortnightly e-mail on their children’s progress but breakfast clubs and after-school activities will match parents’ schedules with their child’s.
This raises another interesting question. School education in particular needs to be rooted in the local cultural and social milieu. Is the inability to appreciate the local educational requirements of other countries one of the reasons for American education companies like Edison Schools (set up as far back as 1992) failing to expand beyond the U.S. and U.K. (Edison Schools UK was set up in 2002)? By the same argument, does the Varkey Group's background - a group managed by an ethnic Indian, running schools delivering curriculum from US, UK, Europe, India and the GCC, to students of multiple nationalities (expats) living in Dubai - give the Varkey Group an edge in expanding globally by virtue of their ability to appreciate multicultural local issues better?
A previous post had described Varkey Group's expansion into the UK, where they have opted to enter the middle segment of the market by providing affordable (£6,000 a year) school education on par with the costs of education in public schools and far below the costs in other private schools.