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If you’d like to study in a rapidly-developing country where sun, sea and sand are a bonus you should consider joining the thousands of international students studying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE is located in the middle of the Arabian Gulf and is made up of seven emirates:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Ajman
  • Dubai
  • Fujairah
  • Ras Al Khaimah
  • Sharjah
  • Umm Al Qaiwain.

The country enjoys a sub-tropical climate, which ranges from 10 degrees in the winter to 50 degrees in the summer.

The UAE is a popular study destination, thanks to cosmopolitan cities, top-class universities and modern facilities. The fact that the majority of the population speaks English and many higher education programmes are taught in the language is another huge draw.

The UAE has extremely low levels of violent and property crime and is generally considered a safe place to live. However, to avoid falling foul of the law you’ll need to respect the country’s Islamic culture and local customs. For example, public displays of affection, fighting, public drunkenness and swearing could land you in big trouble. Contrary to popular stereotypes the rules around dress are more liberal in expat or tourist areas, where it’s acceptable to express your individual style. However, when out socially it’s wise to err on the side of modesty.

In your free time you can go on a desert safari or shopping in the spectacular Dubai Mall, experience a camel ride, visit attractions such as the Burj Khalifa or Palm Islands or take up sports including parachuting, mountaineering, dune bashing or scuba diving.

UAE universities

The UAE is dedicated to developing its education infrastructure, with a goal to becoming the world’s top provider of graduate education in the future.

The UAE’s higher education system takes influence from France, Canada, Germany, Russia, the UK and USA. The number of institutions is ever increasing but there are currently three state-funded universities and more than 50 private institutions. In fact, the UAE is home to some of the best universities in the Gulf region.

This trio of public universities includes:

  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) – the UAE’s largest university.
  • UAE University (UAEU) – the country’s flagship university offering many internationally accredited programmes.
  • Zayed University (ZU) – established in 1998 as a female-only institution but now open to males.

Government institutions are overseen by the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research and only admit UAE nationals. Private universities and colleges are open to all students.

The most prestigious private universities include:

  • Abu Dhabi University (ADU)
  • American University in Dubai (AUD)
  • American University of Sharjah (AUS)
  • Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU)
  • University of Sharjah (UOS).

A growing number of international institutions also have universities or campuses in the UAE, including those from Australia, Canada, the UK and USA.

There are eight UAE institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2019, these include:

  • Abu Dhabi University
  • Ajman University
  • American University in Dubai
  • American University of Sharjah
  • Khalifa University
  • United Arab Emirates University
  • University of Sharjah
  • Zayed University.

A further four UAE institutions appear in the QS University Rankings: Arab Region 2018.

For a list of accredited universities see Arabian Campus – Universities.

The academic year runs from September to June with a winter break in December and a spring break in March.

Degree courses in the UAE

Bachelors programmes at UAE institutions are available in a range of subjects and a can be studied both full and part time. Full-time courses typically take three to four years to complete.

Universities set their own admission requirements, but to be accepted onto a course international students usually need a high school leaver’s certificate or equivalent.

The majority of universities teach in English so if this is not your native language you’ll also need to prove your proficiency through an IELTS or TOEFL test. Despite the fact that many universities teach in English you may also need to prove fluency in Arabic.

To search for undergraduate degrees see Arabian Campus – Bachelor degrees.

Masters degrees

Most Masters programmes in the UAE are structured in a similar way to those in other parts of the world, with MAs and MScs available. You must have a Bachelors degree to be accepted onto a course. Programmes are taught on a full-time basis and last for one or two years. However, some courses offer the opportunity for part-time, online or distance study, with these options lasting up to five years.

Popular subjects include business administration, architecture, humanities, science and engineering. As in the UK, most Masters courses in the UAE require you to complete a thesis.

The main language of instruction is English, although some institutions may ask for demonstrable knowledge of Arabic.

Other postgraduate qualifications available include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Executive MBA and PhD.

Search courses in the UAE at the Commission for Academic Accreditation.


Like Masters qualifications, PhDs in the UAE follow a similar structure to those in the UK. Students are required to conduct independent research and submit a thesis.

Doctoral programmes typically last three to four years, depending on your field of study. You must have a Masters degree to apply for these research-based programmes.

PhD’s are commonly taken in biotechnology, economics, engineering, science and technology.

For more information, check out Arabian Campus PhDs and Doctorates in UAE.

Student exchanges

After 50 years of rapid growth the UAE is one of the planet’s most cutting-edge locations, so it’s hardly surprising that a number of UK universities have developed campuses in the country.

The University of Middlesex has a campus in Dubai, which provides a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, as well as a number of short professional courses. Heriot-Watt University also offers a variety of Bachelors and Masters courses in Dubai.

Other UK institutions with campuses in the UAE include:

  • Alliance Manchester Business School Middle East Centre
  • London Business School Dubai
  • University of Birmingham Dubai
  • University of Strathclyde Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

You may be eligible for postgraduate exchange programmes with your university, so check with your tutor or institution’s international office. The UAE institution you’re interested in attending may also be able to help.

Those studying science, engineering or technology can embark on 12-week summer placements with IAESTE UK.

Course fees

UAE citizens get to study postgraduate courses for free at public universities, but international students have to pay tuition fees. Universities in the UAE set their own fees so costs vary depending on your course, level of study and location.

Tuition fees for postgraduate courses are often expensive but the cost of programmes varies significantly. Fees can cost anything between AED 48,000 (£10,331) to AED 120,450 (£25,926).

All courses are assessed in semester credit hours. There are also additional costs to consider such as application fees, accommodation, study materials, food and travel.

Funding to study in the UAE

Tuition fees might be on the pricey side but there are a select number of funding options.

The United Arab Emirates government does not currently offer scholarship schemes for international postgraduate students, the government scholarships on offer are often reserved for UAE nationals only. However, some institutions in the country offer postgraduate study scholarships to foreign students. You might also be eligible for funding from a UK organisation, depending on what you study.

Student visas

To gain a student residence visa you will need to be sponsored by a resident of the country. If you don’t have any relatives in the UAE your university will likely do this for you, but check with your institution’s international office to make sure that they provide this service.

You’ll need to apply for the visa online, but bear in mind that sponsorship doesn’t always guarantee acceptance.

Student visas are usually only granted for one year but are renewable for the duration of your course. Application costs up to AED 3,000 (£648), plus an additional AED 1,000 (£216) deposit.

You’ll need to provide:

  • passport with at least six months validity and two blank visa pages
  • 12 passport sized photographs
  • three passport copies and an entry visa to the UAE upon arrival
  • evidence of acceptance to a UAE higher education institution
  • bank statements outlining evidence of funds
  • tenancy agreement (or a letter from your university if staying in halls)
  • copy of tuition fee receipt for the current study year of the programme
  • copy of visa fees receipt for the current study year of the programme
  • postgraduate students will also need proof of a recognised undergraduate degree.

Upon arrival in the country you’ll need to undergo a medical examination. This includes testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, leprosy and syphilis. If you test positive for any of these diseases, with the exception of syphilis, you’ll be deported.

In November 2018 the UAE government approved a decision to grant a five-year visa to outstanding students. To be granted this visa:

  • secondary school students must graduate with a grade of at least 95%
  • university students must graduate with a distinctive GPA of at least 3.75 from universities within or outside the country.

For more information on student visas see Arabian Campus – UAE study.

How to apply

Universities set their own application requirements. Applications for postgraduate study are usually completed online and submitted directly to your university of interest. All applications should be made by May/June prior to course start dates.

Universities ask for:

  • a completed application form
  • an application fee
  • your passport
  • certificates of educational achievement
  • references
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate (if applicable).

For more information on entry criteria, contact your chosen university’s international student office.

Language requirements

The national language in the UAE is Arabic, although the majority of the population speaks fluent English. If you’re taking an English-taught course but would like to learn a second language, there are plenty of places upon arrival that offer Arabic lessons. Learning the national language may also help you to socialise and settle into your new home.

All three public universities expect you to be proficient in Arabic as well as English, while the majority of private institutions teach their programmes in English. If you’re not a native speaker of one or both of these languages you’ll need to provide proficiency test scores before being admitted onto a course.

Language requirements vary so check with your institution.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)  is young, dynamic, and exciting – known for its incredible diversity, warm hospitality, political stability, economic vitality, safety, and religious tolerance. Here are ten reasons to give this thriving nation a look when choosing your study abroad location.

1. Experience a Unique Study Abroad Destination

Anyone can go to Europe, the Far East, or “Down Under”, but the UAE is a relatively new destination undergoing constant and extreme transformation. Don’t be one of the crowd – head to the UAE for a whole new kind of adventure!

2. Many Cultures in One Location

Study in the UAE, and you will certainly learn a lot about the Emirati culture. However, Emiratis only make up approximately 20% of the country’s population, with the remainder coming from all over the Arab-Islamic world, and beyond! While most people speak English, walk the streets and you will hear conversations in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Tagalog, English, and any number of other languages. You will come away from this study abroad experience with a wide knowledge and insight into a broad range of world cultures. The UAE is the place to discover the real meaning of the word internationalization.

3. Benefit from Excellent Educational Facilities  

There are a range of study abroad opportunities, from large public universities to smaller private colleges, and everything in between. Many of these will be accredited both by the UAE’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR), and by an accrediting agency in another country. For example, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) is accredited jointly by MOHESR and by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in the US. Not only that, but AUS’s individual programs are accredited to the “gold-standard” within the US system (i.e. AACSB, ABET, and NAAB). This means that students can continue on with their major studies in confidence at a high quality university, while experiencing all of the benefits and adventure that study abroad in the UAE has to offer.

4. Explore All Seven Emirates

The UAE contains seven Emirates, each with their own laws, cultures, landscapes, traditions, and Sheikh, which is a respectful term meaning elder or leader. Abu Dhabi – the largest Emirate and capital city – is known for:  a higher proportion of Emirati Nationals, vast oil holdings, and tree-lined avenues. Another claim to fame is the ongoing development of Saadiyat Island which will soon contain a branch of the Louvre, the Guggenheim, a Performing Arts Center, the NYU Abu Dhabi Campus, and a range of other attractions featuring modern and creative architecture. Abu Dhabi also boasts the magnificent Palace Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and green Masdar City.

The second-largest Emirate of Dubai features a modern, glitzy city, the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), seven star hotels such as Burj Al Arab, Palm Islands, incredible malls, and  fountains. The third-largest Emirate is Sharjah, which is a more traditional Arab city featuring the beautiful University City with park-like grounds and traditional Islamic architecture, as well as a range of museums and heritage areas celebrating the Arab-Islamic culture of the Gulf. Not far outside the cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, you will find yourself in the middle of the desert, with vast shifting sand dunes, camels, and the occasional Gaf Tree.

On the Indian Ocean side of the UAE you can explore Fujairah, known for beaches great for snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. Northern Emirates include Ajman, Umm-Al-Quwain, and Ras Al Khaimah – all featuring their own unique attractions and cultures. The entire country is surrounded by bits of the Sultanate of Oman, and the ruggedly beautiful Hajar Mountains filled with wadis, natural pools, and hiking trails.

5. Be Surprised!  

Headlines and newscast can easily lead to the impression that the entire Middle East is filled with flames and chaos. Why not come and see the situation for yourself, perhaps be surprised, and lay some stereotypes to rest.

The UAE happens to be a very safe and modern country, with very low levels of violent and property crime. The diversity of the population means that there are definitely residents who have directly experienced some of the troubling events happening around the region, and you will learn a lot during conversations with the many nationalities living and working there. But, you may also be surprised at the extent to which business continues as usual. Immerse yourself, read the paper, talk to residents, attend lectures, and find out more about what’s behind the news reports.

6. Meet Great People  

Arabs are known for their sincere hospitality, strong sense of tradition, and great sense of humor. They welcome people from all over the world, and are anxious to share their culture and values. Expect to spend long hours discussing home and learning about your host’s while feeling like one of the family.

7. Learn About an Interesting Culture

The Bedouin are an Arab ethnic group that lives in the desert. Their long traditions are interesting and include shipbuilding, exploration, pearl diving, ruling families, camel herding , falconry, scientific discovery, Arabic language, shopping, etc. Studying Arab culture means walking amongst ancient iron age ruins and archeological digs but also modern art and cutting edge architecture. The UAE offers a wide range of heritage areas, museums, festivals, galleries, and events to experience.

8. Try Any Activity…ANY

Water sports, parachuting, trekking, dune bashing, belly-dancing, eating, shopping, dancing, bargaining at traditional souks, studying, camel riding, exploring, travelling, observing, learning. The list really never ends. About the only thing you can’t experience in the UAE is boredom.

9. Many Program Options

Study abroad in the UAE as an exchange student (through a university partnership or ISEP), through a third-party provider (API, CIEE, IFSA-Butler), or as a direct-enrollment visiting student.  You can join for a semester, or a year, and perhaps include an internship before returning home.

10. The Perfect Launch Pad to See More  

The Emirates are the central hub of the world. Students studying there can travel easily to and from their host country through one of the many world-class international airports in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Sharjah – or one of the regional airports. There are so many interesting and exotic locations nearby – India, Kenya, Bahrain, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, and many more. Reach both European and African locations in short plane rides.












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