The United Arab Emirates Study Abroad Market

The higher education market in UAE has witnessed significant growth in its revenues in the past five years. The overall revenues have grown along with the number of enrollments in Higher Education Institutes. Women pursuing studies in higher education in the country constituted around more than half of the total share. Read all about it in our Market Report on the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate state. It has the largest population and the most higher education institutes with the highest number of enrollments. Although the government is making efforts to promote higher education across UAE, Emirates like Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah are still lagging behind. Enrollments were highest in business, economics and engineering bachelor and master/post doc students. These programs are popular in the UAE because they are cost effective for students who want to enjoy the overseas experience while studying.

The increase in enrollments is one of the primary growth factors for the education market in the UAE. Parents are increasingly willing to invest money and time  to help their children get the best start in life. The job market in the UAE is highly competitive. The education market in the UAE is expected to accelerate at 5% through 2022. (source:

UAE Market Highlights

  • Strong government support over the past few years has led to the continuous growth of education sector by inviting private players to enter the market.
  • Establishment of new schools, increase in use of ICT has enabled the curriculum to compete in the international market. The use of eLearning and smart classes is expected to spread in the education market as an effective medium of a more engaging and interactive learning in all levels of education.
  • The vocational and technical education market in UAE is expected to witness a steady growth in revenues and enrollments in the future years. It will attract both male and female candidates as domestic participation in workforce improves. (source:

Quick facts

  • Population: 9,6 million (2019)

  • Education: 14 years compulsory

  • Academic year: September – August

Secondary education

  • Starting age: 11

  • Duration: 7 years (4 years lower secondary, 3years upper secondary education)

  • Enrollment numbers: 528,000 (2019)
    Enrollment rate: 105%

Higher education

  • Duration: 4 – 6 years (bachelor 4 – 5 years, Master 2 years, PhD 3 – 4 years)

  • Enrollment numbers: 191,000 (2019)

  • Tertiary enrollment rate: 80%

  • Universities/Higher Education Institutions: Abu Dhabi 23, Ajman: 5, Dubai:

UAE Education System

Secondary education

Education at primary and secondary levels is universal and compulsory up to the ninth grade. This takes place in a four-tier process over 14 years:

  1. 4 to 5 year-olds attend kindergarten
  2. 6 to 11 year-olds attend primary schools
  3. the preparatory stage caters for children aged between 12 and 14 and
  4. 15 to 17 year-olds attend secondary schools.

UAE K-12 Education Market

The K-12 industry in the UAE comprises of kindergarten, primary, intermediate and secondary level of education where children in the age group 4 to 17 years obtain their basic level of education. The public schools in the country have witnessed slower growth in terms of number of enrollments as compared to private schools. The highest number of enrollments was in Cycle 1 (primary) level of schooling. It was followed by intermediate level of schooling. It was followed by KG level and secondary level of education. The K-12 education in UAE is quite evenly distributed in terms of male and female ratio. The number of Non Emirati students exceeds the number of Emirati students K-12 schools across UAE.

The K-12 education sector will account for the highest growth in the market due to the increasing number of enrollments in both the private and public sectors. Also, girls are increasingly being offered education from kindergarten to 12th grade. The report also provides an accurate prediction of the contribution of the various end-user segments to the growth of the education market size in the UAE. (Source:

Admission to higher education

It is largely up to UAE universities themselves to set admission criteria to higher education. They may vary depending on the institution and course of study. Generally, students must have a secondary school leaving certificate in order to gain admittance into university first level of studies. For admission to the federal higher education institutions, students must take a Common Education Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) exam that assesses their competency in English and mathematics.

UAE Educational System

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Higher Education Institutions

UAE higher education institutions can be divided into three categories: Public, private, and Global Partnerships.

1. Public Institutions
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

2. Private Institutions
The Ministry of Education through its Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) is responsible for the accreditation of private institutions.

3. Global Partnerships
A number of international universities have campuses and programs in the UAE. Some are housed in special zones, including Dubai Knowledge Village and Academic City. (source: UAE Cultural Division)

Fields of study

According to the latest UNESCO data (2019), students are enrolled predominantly at the undergraduate level—only 13.6 percent and less than 1 percent of students studied at the master’s and doctoral levels, respectively. The population-rich emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have almost 60 percent of all students. The field of study most pursued in the UAE by far is business and economics, followed by engineering and education.

Latest UAE Higher Education study abroad stats

At this point a total number of 14,689 UAE students are studying abroad for a degree in higher education (source: UNESCO). The most popular study abroad destinations among students from UAE are:

UAE students studying abroad
UNESCO study abroad data

IB schools in UAE

The UAE has 45 schools that implement elements of the International Baccalaureate curriculum – the highest number in the region.
Of these schools, 24 are listed as fully accredited by the governing body in Geneva, Switzerland, on the IBO website. The list includes:

  • Abu Dhabi

    Abu Dhabi International Private School
    Al Najah Private School
    American Community School, Abu Dhabi
    American International School in Abu Dhabi
    Australian School of Abu Dhabi
    Raha International School.

  • Dubai

    Deira International School
    Dubai American Academy
    Dubai International Academy
    Dubai Modern High School
    Emirates International School
    Emirates International School Meadows
    GEMS Wellington International School
    GEMS World Academy Dubai
    Greenfield Community School
    Jumeirah Baccalaureate School
    Jumeirah English Speaking School
    Raffles World Academy
    Repton School, Dubai
    Universal American School, Dubai
    Uptown School

  • Sharjah
    Australian International School
    Victoria International School of Sharjah

Best performing UAE Universities

Looking to partner with Universities from UAE? These are the best performing universities.

United Arab Emirates University

THE Ranking: 301 – 350

Khalifa University

THE Ranking: 351 – 400

University of Sharjah

THE Ranking: 601 – 800

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