Briefly about secondary education in the UAE

Secondary education in the UAE lasts for 12 years. Private schools in the UAE are very popular with foreigners and locals due to the fact that studies are conducted in English and international diplomas are issued upon graduation. You can choose an institution with American, British, French, Indian and Russian programs. Before enrolling in a local university, graduates of private schools must confirm the equivalence of their diploma with the UAE Ministry of Education.

In public schools, instruction is entirely in Arabic, boys and girls study separately, and the study of Islamic culture is mandatory. Foreigners can study here for a fee. English is studied as a second language from grade 1. Children are accepted from 6 years (Elementary Education). From the 6th grade, Lower-secondary education begins. This stage lasts for 4 years. Then students can choose their path through grades 10-12 (Upper-Secondary Education):

  • Technical Upper-Secondary Education makes it possible to get a specialization in 3 years in one of the following directions: business, engineering, IT, tourism, medicine, etc. Such programs are focused on the earliest possible employment of young people. Upon graduation Secondary Technical School Certificate is awarded, which also allows the students to enter the university;
  • General Upper-Secondary Education prepares high school students for university studies. Depending on their academic success, schoolchildren are divided into 2 tracks: general and advanced. Students of an advanced track study mathematics and scientific subjects in depth for admission to medical and engineering faculties of universities. The rest is identical. Graduates of the 12th grade receive a General Secondary Education Certificate after passing the state exam.

Education in the UAE began its history less than 50 years ago and therefore managed to absorb only the most modern and effective practices. The experience of the world leaders in the field of education is being implemented here: the USA, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. 15-20% of the state budget is annually spent on the education sector[1]. Foreigners from all over the world make up the majority of both the student and the teaching body. Little is known about studying in this exotic country, so there is still a chance to get a good discount on training for foreign students.

List and ranking of UAE universities

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Advantages of education in the UAE

  1. English is the main language of instruction at higher education institutions in the UAE. This makes education here promising, modern, and accessible for foreigners. At the same time, the requirements for admission are not at that high and start from IELTS 5.5.
  2. Openness to foreigners. More than 80% of the UAE's population are expats not only from Arab countries but also from all over the world. The country eagerly attracts talented young people from abroad, often offering discounts on tuition. And because of the multicultural environment, students face almost no discrimination.
  3. Big investments. The UAE government considers education to be the main driving force of a progressive state. Guided by this principle, local authorities and university leaders provide students with equipped classrooms, modern technology, internships, and comfortable accommodation.
  4. British and American universities. Some of them have established their branches in the UAE. Studying here, students will receive the same prestigious diploma as university students in the US and UK. Moreover, the cost of training in the branches of the UAE is often lower.
Disadvantages of education in the UAE

  1. Tuition fees. Education in the UAE is one of the most expensive in the world, along with the UK, USA, and Australia. However, most universities offer large discounts to students for academic and other achievements.
  2. Cultural differences. Most of the UAE's population is Muslim, and religion plays an important role in their lives. Students will have to get used to some dress code rules, the week starting on Sunday and closed enterprises during national holidays.
  3. The climate of the United Arab Emirates is not suitable for everyone. If you cannot tolerate the heat or suffer from a heart condition, living in the UAE will be difficult. The temperature rarely drops below +25 Celcius, even in winter, and sandstorms are also somewhat frequent.

Tuition fees and structure in the UAE

Type of educationAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirements
Summer camp6+1-4 weeks354 USD/week545 USD/weekA1 — Elementary
Language courses14+1-12 weeks136 USD/week272 USD/weekA1 — Elementary
Secondary education6+12 years3,268 USD/year8,170 USD/yearB1 — Intermediate
Foundation17+1-2 semesters8,170 USD/year10,893 USD/yearIELTS 5.5
Bachelor's18+4 years10,348 USD/year14,978 USD/yearIELTS 5.5
Master's20+2 years13,072 USD/year23,148 USD/yearIELTS 6.0
MBA20+2 years21,242 USD/year40,849 USD/yearIELTS 6.5
Doctoral20+3 years35,403 USD/year54,465 USD/yearIELTS 6.5
Additional expenses

ItemAverage cost
Language exam (IELTS)257 USD
Student visa1,906 USD
FlightDepending on the place of departure
Rent1,634 USD/semester
Transportation68 USD/month
Meals109 USD/month

Options and schemes for admission to universities in the UAE

Options for admission to the universities
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Admission requirements in UAE universities

The application process to UAE universities is fully automated. The applicant fills out a questionnaire on the website of the selected university, attaching scans of education documents, IELTS or TOEFL results and an ID. Depending on academic performance, a student can be admitted right away (direct admission) or placed on a waiting list (conditional admission). It is better to have a GPA of at least 3 out of 4. Excellent students can also count on a significant discount.

You do not need to know Arabic to study in the Emirates: the main language of higher education in the country is English. At the same time, the language requirements are low and start at IELTS 5.5. Sometimes universities conduct entrance examinations in English. If you still want to study in Arabic, you will have to pass the local exam EmSAT for high school graduates. However, Arabic-speaking universities rarely accept foreigners, and training can be separate for men and women.

Some institutions also ask candidates to undergo a medical examination and send them a Medical examination form. Applications are accepted 2 times a year: in April-May and October-November. Please note that most UAE universities do not recognize distance learning diplomas and external studies, even if the school or university that issued the document is officially accredited in your country.

Documents for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • For bachelor’s: legalized certificate + transcript with grades, for master’s: legalized bachelor's degree in a related specialty + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate IELTS or TOEFL;
  • Copy of your passport;
  • Copy of birth certificate;
  • A copy of a valid UAE visa (if available);
  • Photo 3x4 cm;

Additionally for master's and doctoral studies:

All documents and their copies must have a certified translation into English and/or Arabic. Translation requirements should be clarified at a specific university.

Legalization and recognition of a diploma in the UAE

If you plan to study or work in the UAE, all documents on education issued abroad may bу first required to go through the consular legalization procedure. This process can take up to 3 months, as it includes several stages:

  • Translate the diploma or certificate into Arabic or English;
  • Certify the translation by a notary;
  • Obtain a certificate from the Ministry of Justice;
  • Legalize the document at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
  • Certify the document at the consulate or the UAE embassy.

Final approval from the embassy can only be obtained if all stages of the procedure have been completed. Please note that the transcript with grades must also be legalized.

Some universities or employers may require additional confirmation of document equivalence with the UAE Ministry of Education. This can be done quickly and easily online on the department website. Price — 14-54 USD per document, depending on the level of education.

Foundation programs in the UAE

Some universities offer school graduates to complete one-year preparatory Foundation programs. They are not mandatory and quite expensive. Nevertheless, classes in such courses help to improve English proficiency, master core university disciplines at a basic level and generally adapt to student life. Foundation is also popular with local applicants, as there is little emphasis on English in public schools. Credits earned during the Foundation, can be transferred to the bachelor’s program, and the best students can sometimes even enter the 1st year of the university without exams.

At the moment, UAE universities are considering the abolition of such programs. Most likely, this will happen by the end of 2021, but there is no official confirmation at the time of 2020. The reason is the very high cost of the Foundation for the state and the universities themselves. In addition, local schools have revised their curricula and increased the number of English lessons, so high school students in the UAE are now more prepared for entering the university.

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Colleges in the UAE

College education is not the most popular choice among foreigners in the United Arab Emirates. Such institutions should not be confused with colleges within the university, which are similar to faculties or departments that combine several specialties of one area.

Officially, foreign applicants can only enter private colleges, which are the majority in the country. Government agencies make exceptions on rare occasions, mainly accepting only UAE citizens or resident graduates of local schools after passing the EmSAT exam. The main mission of colleges is to provide specialized education to those who cannot enter the university and to provide the labor market with professional staff.

In most colleges, you can get an applied specialty in business, IT, construction, and some other fields with the assignment of one of the following qualifications: Certificate, Diploma, Associate Degree, or Higher Diploma, depending on the duration of study (1-3 years). After graduation, students can immediately start working or continue their studies at a bachelor's cycle at a university. There are also colleges with higher education programs: bachelor's, master's, and MBA.

Bachelor's degree in the UAE

Universities in the United Arab Emirates operate according to the three-stage Bologna system. The first stage is bachelor's, which usually lasts for 4 years. Engineering and Architecture Programs — 5 years. During this time, the student earns 120-140 credits on average, depending on the specialty. The curriculum consists of general education subjects, specialized disciplines, and electives in their field. Some programs include a compulsory internship. Graduates receive a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Each university sets the requirements for admission independently, but traditionally, for admission to a bachelor's program good secondary education and language certificates are enough.

Documents for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Legalized certificate + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate IELTS or TOEFL;
  • Copy of passport;
  • Copy of birth certificate;
  • A copy of a valid UAE visa (if available);
  • Photo 3x4 cm;

All documents and their copies must have a certified translation into English and/or Arabic. Translation requirements should be clarified at a specific university.

Master's in the UAE

Master's programs are often research-oriented. Studying at the university at this stage lasts for 1-2 years and the student can earn from 30 to 60 credits. In most cases, in addition to general courses in a specialty, a master's degree includes writing a diploma or working on one's own research project. However, there are also cheaper programs where you only need to attend classes and pass final exams. Also, some universities offer one-year postgraduate courses focused on practice and employment. After graduation, students receive a postgraduate or graduate diploma in their chosen specialty. Earned credits can be transferred when enrolling in a full-fledged master's program.

To enter the master's program the bachelor's degree from an accredited university is needed. An average score should be at least 3.0 out of 4. Among other things, a language certificate should also be submitted.

Documents for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Legalized bachelor's degree in a related specialty + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate IELTS or TOEFL;
  • CV;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Letters of recommendation (2-3);
  • Copy of your passport;
  • Copy of birth certificate;
  • A copy of a valid UAE visa (if available);
  • Photo 3x4 cm;

All documents and their copies must have a certified translation into English and/or Arabic. Translation requirements should be clarified at a specific university.

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Doctoral studies in the UAE

To obtain a doctoral degree in the UAE, you must complete an academic PhD program. Training at this stage usually takes students from 3 to 5 years. As in the USA, PhD programs involve about 2 years of attending specialized courses, and then a year of writing a dissertation and oral defense in front of a commission. Also, UAE universities have professional doctoral studies: for example, Doctor of Business Administration. As a rule, specialists with 3-5 years of work experience are accepted to such programs to improve their qualifications and the level of expertise in their field. To enroll in a PhD, you will need a master’s degree with an average score of at least 3.3 out of 4.

Documents for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Legalized bachelor's degree in a related specialty + transcript with grades;
  • Legalized master's degree in a relevant specialty + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate IELTS or TOEFL;
  • CV;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Proof of work experience;
  • Letters of recommendation (2-3).
  • Copy of passport;
  • Copy of birth certificate;
  • A copy of a valid UAE visa (if available);
  • Photo 3x4 cm;

All documents and their copies must have a certified translation into English and/or Arabic. Translation requirements should be clarified at a specific university.

Academic career and faculty composition

The United Arab Emirates borrowed a system of academic qualifications from the United States. In local universities, the following positions are most common:

  • Graduate Research Assistant is a PhD student who, in addition to studying, teaches bachelor’s students in their specialty. Average salary: 1,089 USD/month.
  • Lecturer is a lecturer-teacher who leads classes for students. Also engaged in scientific and research activities. Depending on the length of service, there may be intermediate promotions: for example, to Senior Lecturer. Average salary: 3,268 USD/month.
  • Assistant Professor. At this stage, the academician is hired on a permanent basis. In addition to teaching, the duties of the employee include administrative activities and work on their own articles and monographs. Average salary: 4,630 USD/month.
  • Associate Professor usually earns his qualification after 6 years in a previous position. In this position, he can actively engage in scientific activities outside the university. Average salary: 7,625 USD/month.
  • Professor — the highest academic qualification, awarded if you have significant experience and scientific achievements in your field. Average salary: 8,170 USD/month.

Scholarships and grants

In the United Arab Emirates, higher education is paid for all students and is relatively expensive. Most universities try to support students by providing various scholarships and tuition discounts. Sometimes just because you are a foreigner. Payments can cover up to 100% of the cost of training, but more often they cover only 30-50%. Applications for scholarships are usually accepted at the same time as the admission ones. The main criteria are an excellent certificate and high IELTS results. The better the indicators, the greater the chance to get a discount. If a student has received a scholarship, at the end of each academic year, the administration will evaluate his academic and extracurricular success in order to decide whether to continue funding. Thus, a scholarship can sometimes be obtained while studying, by impressing the commission with your academic achievements over the past semester.

Also, active members of the university's sports teams and early bidders can count on discounts. Another feature of UAE universities is the so-called "family grants": if several brothers / sisters or other close relatives study at the same university at the same time, a discount is given to each family member.

List of scholarships

UAE student visa

To study at the UAE university you need a national student visa. After enrollment, the student fills out a visa application form on the website of the chosen university, attaching all the necessary documents. In this case, the educational institution acts as a sponsor, so you won't be able to apply for a visa yourself. A visa fee of about 1,906 USD is paid along with a deposit of about 681 USD, which is returned at the end of the course. This amount includes health insurance.

Required documents

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Copy of your passport;
  • Visa fee payment receipt;
  • Tuition payment receipt;
  • A copy of the letter of admission;
  • Copy of a valid UAE visa (if available).

A student visa is valid for 1 year, then it must be extended without paying a fee. The UAE is discussing the possibility of issuing 5-year visas to gifted students, but the initiative has not yet been officially adopted. You will also need to obtain a temporary Emirates ID upon arrival. You can order the document online on the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (FAIC) website. The applicant will receive an SMS when the ID is ready. Then the document can be obtained at the place of residence.

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Opportunity to work while studying

Until recently, international students in the UAE were not allowed to work while studying. The exceptions were employment on campus or an official internship from a university. Since 2017, concessions have been introduced in this area. Foreign adult students can now also work part-time (6 hours a day with lunch breaks) in non-governmental organizations. Students must first obtain an Emirates ID and Work Permit. The fee for receiving the latter is 136 USD.

However, internships and part-time jobs in partner organizations of the university remain the most reliable and promising option. This is a great opportunity to strengthen your resume and stay in the country after graduation. The UAE is a rapidly developing advanced country, with offices of world brands and thousands of businesses that need young qualified personnel and for this they directly cooperate with universities. Many students find good positions at job fairs. The city of Dubai also has the Creative City Network, a free economic zone that houses a variety of innovative technology centers. It is one of the most popular places to work among international students.

Opportunity to stay and immigration in the UAE

Most immigrants come to the United Arab Emirates to find a good job. Students are no exception. University graduates can obtain a job-seeking visa, which is valid for 6 months. There is a constant discussion in the government about increasing this period to 2-5 years for outstanding students, so it is worth keeping an eye on the situation. In any case, after getting a job offer, a person receives a permanent work visa, which is limited only by a work contract. In this case, the sponsor is the employer which means that the company that hired you manages the paperwork and all expenses itself. You will also need to undergo a medical examination to obtain a health card. It is recommended that you look for suitable vacancies already during your studies, since the summer after graduation is not the best time for this.

Obtaining UAE citizenship is difficult, and it is not needed for an expat to live comfortably in the country. However, a passport opens up many privileges: for example, free medicine and education. The applicant must legally stay in the country for at least 30 years. All this time it is preferable to work for a citizen of the Emirates, not break the law and learn Arabic. Women can apply for citizenship after 3 years of marriage with an Emirati. Also, the ruler of each emirate has the right to present citizenship to a foreigner for an outstanding contribution to the economy and development of the country. In all cases, the new resident is obliged to give up the second passport.

Prospects and employment opportunities

  • In the UAE. In the United Arab Emirates, local residents make up just over 10% of the population[2]. The rest are labor migrants of various qualifications. A foreigner with a local diploma will be hired even more willingly. It is worth paying attention to the leading sectors of the market, in addition to the extraction of natural resources: construction, finance and insurance, IT, marketing, work with real estate, teaching in international schools.
  • In other countries. Over the past 20 years, the UAE has become an advanced state and began to cooperate with the leaders of the world economy: the United States, China and some Western European countries, so after studying at a local university, there is every chance of finding a job abroad. A UAE university graduate with knowledge of the Arabic language will also easily find a job in the Gulf countries.
  • Academic career. Most UAE universities teach in English, and the share of foreign teachers is one of the highest in the world: often over 90%[3]. The state believes in the value of education for the development of the country, therefore, there are always many vacancies in this area for young specialists from abroad.
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