UAE businessman launches largest Arab education fund with $1.14 billion

Sunday 17/04/2016
Towards providing youth with unrivalled educational opportunities

DUBAI- A billionaire businessman from the United Arab Emirates launched the Arab world's largest education fund on Wednesday, setting aside $1.14 billion in grants for underserved youth from the region.

The Abdulla al-Ghurair Foundation for Education said it plans to provide scholarships for 15,000 Middle Eastern students over the next 10 years.

The recipients will be students in need of financial assistance who also qualify for entrance to the region's top universities.

Fund Chairman Abdul Aziz al-Ghurair said his family has allocated a third of their wealth for the initiative.

He said the endowment is likely to grow over the coming years as the family's business revenues increase, with the scholarship fund intended to continue well beyond its initial 10-year mark.

"It has to be significant in size. It has to make an impact in the region," al-Ghurair told The Associated Press, describing the foundation as a "perpetual endowment."

The al-Ghurair family has stakes in a number of businesses, including the Dubai-based Mashreq Bank, as well as in iron and steel, packaging, cement and insurance companies.

In the presence of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the foundation signed its first agreements Wednesday with The American University in Cairo, The American University of Beirut, The American University of Sharjah and Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.

The first batch of students will be receiving scholarships as early as this upcoming fall semester, said the fund's CEO Maysa Jalbout.

"We're looking to have young people who are well-rounded, who can think critically, who are creative," Jalbout said.

"We're hoping to help them enter the top universities, both in the region and globally, so that they can be competitive and be able to compete on a global level for the jobs of the future."

More than half of the 369 million people living in the Middle East are under 25 years old, but unemployment runs high in part because many do not have access to quality education or jobs.

According to a Brookings Institute paper co-written by Jalbout and Columbia University doctoral candidate Samar Farah, Arab governments have struggled to meet the needs of young people, with the pace of development trailing behind.

The Middle East had the world's highest youth unemployment rates in 2014, with 46 percent of women and 24 percent of men unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization.

Al-Ghurair said the fund is essentially about providing a better future for the region's youth because "the prosperity of the Arab world can only come through proper education."

"Our legacy is we made our wealth from this region, from the UAE, and we want to contribute to the society," he said.

Founded by Abdulla Ahmad Al Ghurair in July 2015, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education provides high-achieving, underserved Emirati and Arab youth with unrivalled educational opportunities. The Foundation's board of trustees is chaired by Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair; Abdulla Ahmad Al Ghurair's son.

The Foundation's primary focus is to create opportunities for at least 15,000 promising Arab youth from underprivileged backgrounds and help them prepare for university, work and life.

With an initial budget of AED 4.2 billion over the next 10 years, the Foundation will award scholarships based on a highly competitive process.

The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education aims to empower the youth of today to write a new Arab story by designing education programmes that are tailored to the needs of the younger generations and the needs of the regional and global labour market.