Secondary and higher education system in the UAE

Many families with children who come to the UAE for a long period of time with the prospect of permanent residence are wondering about obtaining secondary and higher education. And although the educational system of this country was finally formed not so long ago, there are many schools suitable for the education of foreigners.

Secondary education in the UAE: “a state within a state”

The UAE has both public and private secondary schools, most of which are based in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Most immigrants coming from Europe prefer the latter for a number of reasons, although it is very, very difficult to enter the most prestigious of them.

People from Europe give preference to private schools primarily because English is the main language of instruction, while in public schools, which are also segregated by gender, teaching is conducted in Arabic. Private schools in the UAE do not adhere to the national policy for a number of other reasons – in particular, they have a two-semester model instead of the standard three-semester, and there is the possibility of choosing an educational program. The latter can be British, French, German, American, Canadian or International Baccalaureate (IB). Accordingly, both the set of disciplines and the grading system differ.

Foreign citizens, regardless of the type and duration of their visa, will have to pay tuition fees at both public and private schools. In the first case, with rare exceptions, the fee will not exceed 2000 USD per year, although you will need to go through a number of bureaucratic procedures. In the second, this amount will be significantly higher, although it depends on a number of factors – reputation, educational program and a set of subjects that may not correspond to the generally accepted model. In the graduating classes of the most prestigious educational institutions, the annual payment can reach 20 thousand USD per year, although some schools offer various discounts or scholarships, and sometimes employers take on the payment.

Throughout the school year, testing is carried out to determine whether the acquired level of knowledge is sufficient for promotion to the next grade. The requirements for graduation exams in private schools as opposed to public schools can be very different. However, starting in 2017, graduates from both private and public education centers following the national educational curriculum must take the Emirates Standardized Test (EmSAT), which is required for admission to most public universities. If the training was carried out according to the IB international baccalaureate system or the British GCSE, additional exams may be required.

Higher education in the UAE: recognition around the world

There are more than 100 universities in the UAE that offer a variety of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Of these, only three are state-owned, where a foreigner can be admitted only in exceptional cases, and the rest are either private or branches of foreign universities, among which there are many prestigious ones. The new QS World University Rankings 2023 include 11 UAE universities, and three (Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, United Arab Emirates University and American University of Sharjah) are among the top 500. Diplomas from local universities are recognized throughout the world, and for branches the country of issue is not indicated.

UAE universities have many educational programs in English, so applicants need to know it at a fairly high level. The results of the TOEFL or IELTS tests are taken into account, although many universities have a special language exam.

Foreigners who completed high school in another country will be required to have their certificate certified – first by the Ministry of Education of the issuing country, and then by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UAE Embassy. If the documents are not in Arabic or English, you will have to make a translation with certification, after which an application is submitted on the website of the UAE Ministry of Education in order to check them for compliance with current requirements.

In turn, an application for admission to a particular UAE university is submitted on its official website, and the submission deadlines may vary (usually this can be done twice a year – in March-April and September-October). In addition to passing the entrance exams and interview, you will need to obtain a student visa in the UAE and apply for an Emirates ID national identity card (if you do not have one). At the end of everything, you will need to undergo a medical examination, obtain insurance and, finally, pay tuition fees, the amount of which differs depending on the university. In addition, some may charge it immediately for the entire duration of study, others – for one year, and still others – for each semester.

The cost of studying for a bachelor’s degree program at UAE universities starts from 8.5 thousand USD per year and can reach almost 30 thousand USD, and for a master’s degree – from 12.5 to 35 thousand USD, depending on the chosen specialization. To this should be added the purchase of textbooks and materials for laboratory work, as well as payment for accommodation in dormitories, which varies between 2500-7000 USD per year. Some universities provide discounts and installment plans, help in obtaining a loan, or award very decent scholarships for academic success or participation in competitions as part of university teams, which can sometimes completely offset the cost of education.

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