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Education in the UAE

The UAE has already spent about 25% of public revenue on education in the aim to advance the quality and reputation of its academic system. Literacy has reached 90% and, while forty years ago the country only had one university, in 2015 it has over 130 institutes of higher education. 95% of women and 80% of men went on to study at university last year. There are currently approximately 34,000 international students in the UAE.

Primary and secondary education

Education is free from kindergarten to university for UAE citizens and compulsory for children ages 6–12 years old. However, non-UAE citizens must pay for state education, where instruction is single-sex and delivered in Arabic. Subjects include the Qu’ran, Islamic Culture and History, 40% of UAE pupils attend private schools, which teach in English and apply international standards. These schools improve their chances of being accepted to a university later on.

The UAE education system is divided into the following levels:

  • Kindergarten from 4 to 5 years old
  • Primary school from 6 to 11 years old
  • Preparatory school from 12 to 14 years old
  • Secondary School from 15 to 17 years old.

Upon completing secondary school, pupils obtain a leaving certificate. Alternatively, pupils can choose to attend a technical secondary school (12–18 years old) and get a Technical Secondary Diploma.


There are three public and over 130 private and international universities in the UAE. The campuses of international universities are concentrated in special areas such as “Knowledge Village” and “Academic City” in Dubai as well as “University City” in Sharjah. There are branches of UK, US, German, Spanish, French and Australian universities in the UAE.

The UAE top universities

Name Location
American University of Sharjah (AUS) Sharjah
United Arab Emirates University Al Ain
Khalifa University Abu Dhabi
The American University
in Dubai (AUD)
The University of Sharjah Sharjah
Abu Dhabi University Abu Dhabi
Source: QS World University Rankings 2015–2016

There are quotas on foreign citizens studying in public universities: 8% for the Gulf States and 7% for all remaining nations. However, private and international universities accept students on a fee-paying basis. All universities teach in English and Arabic is only used in some specific courses at state-run universities. The most popular programmes with international students are Engineering, Business Administration, Banking and Finance.

Each private university has its own requirements for foreign applicants, which generally include a TOEFL or IELTS score of at least 540 or 6.5 respectively.

Documents required:

  • application form (via university website)
  • secondary education certificate copy, translated into English and notarised
  • transcripts for the last three years of secondary school
  • 4 photos
  • passport copy
  • TOEFL/IELTS scores
  • application handling fee (about $100).

Average tuition fees are $7,000–20,000 per year and living costs are also relatively high. Monthly expenditures for students range from $700–1,500 on average including meals, commuting, entertainment and accommodation.

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