QAA Articles

From experience, some problems for start-up institutions

Updated: May 17, 2020

This is just a quick posting to those investors who are thinking of setting up a new school or college.

By way of a cautionary tale, we have lived through the trials and tribulations of new start-up institutions.

These are a few of the issues that may well arise and that catch investors by surprise.

Firstly; the time it might take to prepare the paperwork for the Ministry of Education License to operate.

I recall a conversation with some Indian investors a few years ago who wished to start a new school in the UAE, and were under the impression that the application would just take a few weeks to be granted.

The usual method is to comply with a framework of MoE questions, and there are many aspects to this which take a great deal of preparation. Last time I completed an MoE application process took three months and was 600 pages long.

We need the Vision and Mission statements, complete governance guidelines and institutional policies to be written, plus the CV and details of all staff; as well as a complete pedagogical breakdown of all programs to be taught, how they will be graded etc.

That in itself is a problem, how do you know who will be employed if you haven’t yet started to advertise for staff, or haven’t yet agreed on or with the benchmarking, accrediting or validating institution(s)?

The information supplied has to be factual and will be carefully checked upon by MoE assessors. I had a situation before where the MoE did an unexpected drop-in audit of a college, and they discovered courses being marketed and taught which had not previously been submitted for approval, so they issued cautions to staff leaders.

We had twenty-four hours to sort out that problem before the senior staff were arrested.

Whoever signs the new institution start-up documentation is legally liable for any discrepancies that might be found.


Treat your academic staff with the respect they deserve.

If they inform you that they need something to do their jobs professionally, I suggest you listen to them, as the very staff you need to retain are those who will be the best qualified and experienced and so can easily find other more meaningful positions elsewhere.

They will just walk away if their requests are ignored for too long.

We have seen this happen with replacement instructors brought in from other countries willing to work for less salary, to the detriment of the quality of instruction and the student body, with subsequent negative comments going out into social media which serious hinders future student recruitment.


Even with the best researched feasibility studies, don’t expect students or profits to come rolling in when you open, it can take years, up to a decade maybe, even assuming all is in order, for healthy returns on the initial capital investments. It may also take longer for a school than a college to break-even.

If investors assume they can save money on initial marketing costs, or delay marketing outlay for new students that first academic year, the recruitment numbers will likely be much lower than the break-even costs for a number of years.


Ensure your quality assurance processes are in action as you submit the license paperwork, it’s much easier in the long run to have all staff on-boarded with performance measures in place than to initiate later when problematic change management will be required.

Once the application is submitted your first MoE visit is likely to be a Health and Safety visit to check the proposed location and premises for simple and common-sense safety aspects.

Take Health, Safety and Environment (HS&E) seriously before you open, as we have seen an institution seriously delayed because of a fire inspection audit.

Ensure you have experts on hand so that all HS&E compliance is worked on from the application submission.

A little tip, starting up from an already functioning premises such as a suitable mall, with car parking, ablution facilities and fire compliance already in place, or even ground floor portable classrooms, can actually make for a faster application acceptance.

I trust this brief article offers some useful considerations for those of you considering a new institution. Get in touch if you have other concerns or queries.