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Education in the UAE

One of the UAE’s highest priorities has always been education. As President His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, noted, “The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people.”

The UAE has focused on educating both men and women. In 1975, the rate of adult literacy was 54 percent among men and 31 percent among women. Today, literacy rates for both genders are close to 95 percent.

New initiatives are being launched at all educational levels. A key area of focus has been to transform K to 12 programs, to ensure that UAE students are fully prepared to attend universities around the world and compete in the global marketplace. In addition, some of the world’s best universities are creating programs in the UAE, attracting talented students in the Arab world and globally.

The UAE’s commitment to education has helped the nation diversify its economy and prepared a new generation of young people ready to compete in the global marketplace. In 2019, young people surveyed throughout the Arab world identified the UAE as the top country to live in and to emulate for the eighth year running, reflecting the opportunities available to youth entering the workforce.

K-12 Programs

The education system of the UAE is relatively new. In 1952, there were few formal schools in the country. In the 1960s and 1970s a school building program expanded the education system. Now, education at the primary and secondary level is universal. In the 2013-2014 academic year, approximately 910,000 students were enrolled at 1,174 public and private schools.

Education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. While general strategy is determined by the Ministry of Education, education councils set up in individual Emirates assist in implementing government policy. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), the Dubai Education Council (DEC), the Sharjah Education Council and the UAE Ministry of Education are each tasked with reforming the educational program in the UAE while still preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the country.

Higher Education

The UAE is home to a wide range of universities, both public and private. UAE citizens can attend government institutions free of charge, and the UAE has one of the highest application participation rates in the world. Ninety-five percent of all girls and 80 percent of boys enrolled in the final year of secondary school apply for admission to a higher education institution. UAE public universities include:

  • UAE University, where enrollment was 502 in its founding year and has increased nearly 30-fold over the years. Women represent a majority of the student body. UAE University awards 70 undergraduate degrees in addition to graduate degrees with many programs that are internationally accredited. (
  • Zayed University (ZU), established in 1998 as an all-women’s institution, and recently opened a men’s campus. It is organized into five colleges—Arts and Sciences, Business Sciences, Communication and Media Sciences, Education and Information Systems—and the primary language of instruction is English. Zayed University has US accreditation, attesting to its high standards. (
  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest higher educational institution in the UAE with an enrollment of 16,000 students. Founded in 1988 with four campuses, HCT now includes 16 men’s and women’s colleges in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Madinat Zayed, Dubai, Ra’s al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah. The colleges offer more than 80 technical and professional degrees and certifications. More than 10,000 of the current students are female. (

Private Institutions

Some of the key private institutions include:

  • American Universities of Sharjah and Dubai, both of which are US accredited
  • Sharjah University
  • Ajman University of Science and Technology
  • Abu Dhabi University, with campuses in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain
  • Al Hosn University
  • Khalifa University of Science and Technology

In addition to these institutions, the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology (MIST) began accepting students in 2009. MIST is the Middle East’s first graduate education and research university focused on clean energy and developing the next generation of solutions to the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Global Partnerships

A number of international universities have campuses and/or programs in the UAE. Some are housed in special zones, including Dubai Knowledge Village and Academic City.

  • The Sorbonne opened its Abu Dhabi campus in 2006 and awards qualifications under French regulations and standards set by the Sorbonne in Paris.
  • New York University is the first comprehensive liberal arts and sciences campus with a robust research component to be operated abroad by a major US university. NYU Abu Dhabi graduated its first class in Spring 2014 with 150 students from 39 countries. The campus has a permanent home on Saadiyat Island to house 2,000 students.
  • Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health is helping establish a public health doctoral program in the Emirates.
  • Other US institutions include the University of Washington, Boston University and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Technical Education

Founded in 1997, the Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT) is the commercial arm of the Higher Colleges of Technology and provides education, training and applied technology instruction. The company is the largest private education provider in the Middle East and is developing projects throughout the MENA region. Other vocational and technical educational centers are sponsored by the:

  • Emirates Institute for Banking and Finance
  • Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Career Development Center
  • Petroleum Institute
  • Dubai School of Government
  • Emirates Aviation College for Aerospace and Academic Studies

Special Education

The government of the UAE strongly supports education and learning services for students with special needs. The UAE signed the optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and passed Federal Law 29/2006 guaranteeing rights for people with special needs.

Vocational and rehabilitation centers have been developed throughout the country. In addition, efforts are made to include special needs students in mainstream educational settings. The government of Abu Dhabi has partnered with the New England Center for Children, a Massachusetts school serving children with autism. The partnership has allowed the UAE to establish a comprehensive education program as well a training course for UAE nationals to provide services to students with special needs in Arabic. The UAE also participates in the Special Olympics.

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