Education in the UAE is well funded and all Emirati children, whether male or female, have the option of free state-funded schooling regulated by the Ministry of Education. The Education 2020 strategy has improved standards significantly and created many new jobs in the sector. School is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 18, and is divided into three stages – elementary school for children aged 5 to 11, intermediate school for 12 to 15 year olds and secondary school for those aged 16 to 18. Younger children can attend kindergarten from the age of 3, while secondary school leavers may go on to university. State schools in the UAE are usually segregated by gender.
Most schools in the UAE run a three-term year, beginning in September and ending in July, although some private schools may operate a different timetable. School typically starts early in the morning and, depending on the age of the children, ends early- or mid-afternoon. Working parents should be aware that they may need to arrange childcare for a period after school.
With huge population growth and a much-improved education system, demand for university places in the UAE has jumped sharply over the past twenty years. Where previously there were just a handful of public universities, there are now around well over 70 higher education institutions offering courses. Admission to public universities is usually reserved for Emirati students, but the many private establishments in the UAE are happy to welcome foreign nationals. Several renowned universities from around the world have campuses in the UAE, including those based at the dedicated Knowledge Village education zone in Dubai.
The UAE government offers various funding options to help Emirati citizens pay for private university tuition, as well as providing free places at state universities, but there is little central support for foreign students. Tuition fees can also be very high for international students, so it is recommended that prospective candidates investigate funding options from their home country or contact their chosen UAE institution to find out about any grant or scholarship opportunities on offer.
Because of the number of international universities in the UAE, course lengths and requirements vary hugely between institutions. Qualifications range from diplomas which take just a few weeks to complete, right the way through to undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses lasting several years.
There are a number of research funds available to both Emiratis and foreign nationals in the UAE. For more information, contact the National Research Foundation or the Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training.
The children of foreign nationals are accepted at state-run schools, but unlike Emirati children they must pay for their education. Although the cost is usually less than attending international schools, many expats prefer to send their children to private establishments because state schools usually teach in Arabic only. International schools also offer a wider range of qualifications. To compare schools in the UAE, visit the School Finder website.
Preschool and childcare options
Over the last few years the UAE government has actively encouraged parents to place their children in kindergarten or preschool, believing it to be a vital part of children’s development. This has led to an increase in demand for places, so some popular private preschools now cost nearly as much as school and have long waiting lists. Like schools, kindergartens usually open in the mornings only, but more are now offering extra sessions for the children of working parents.