Studying in the United Arab Emirates can certainly have its benefits: sun, sea, sand, potential tax-free earnings after graduation, and, according to the QS World University Rankings, some of the best universities in the Gulf region.
Commonly shortened to UAE, the United Arab Emirates is made up of seven states, or emirates (kind of like a much, much smaller version of the United States). As with states in the US, each emirate has some degree of independence, but there’s also a federal government. This is known as the Supreme Council of Rulers, and is made up of the seven emirs – the leaders of each emirate – who inherit their positions.
Since the 1950s, when oil was discovered in the region, the UAE’s economy has undergone rapid change. As well as oil and gas exportation, the country has focused on growing its construction and tourism industries; to an extent these go hand in hand – the impressive feats of modern design on display in Dubai are among the main attractions for visitors.
If you’re keen to find out more, click on the tabs below for information about top universities in the United Arab Emirates, popular locations for students, and what steps to take next.
There are six universities in the United Arab Emirates featured within the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, and a further seven included in the second edition of the QS University Rankings: Arab Region.
The largest higher education institution in the UAE is the Higher Colleges of Technology, which has some 17 campuses across the country. In addition, a number of highly ranked universities based in other countries have branch campuses in the UAE.
Find out more about five of the UAE’s highest-ranked universities:
Ranked 401-410 in the world (up from 481-490 last year) and 25th in the Arab region, Khalifa University is a non-profit science-focused university which was founded in 2007 in Abu Dhabi as part of a government initiative. It currently teaches about 1,500 students, but plans for a new campus mean the university could teach up to 6,000. The university is modeled around the American structure of higher education and is developing a worldwide network of partners, faculty members, and research programs to advance research and innovation in the UAE and surrounding region.
Placing in the 411-420 band of the global rankings, United Arab Emirates University comes sixth in the Arab region ranking. It’s based in the city of Al Ain in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and is the oldest university in the country – though still relatively young – having been established in 1976. Its alumni community includes many powerful leaders in the fields of government and business.
The American University of Sharjah (AUS) is ranked seventh in the Arab region rankings and 441-450 in the global rankings. Licensed both in the UAE and in the US, AUS offers courses based on the US model of higher education, and is a popular choice among international students, resulting in a very diverse student body. It’s located in Sharjah, which was a new entry in the QS Best Student Cities 2016.
The American University in Dubai (AUD) is a private university which was established in 1995, ranked 551-600 in the global rankings and 23rd in the Arab region rankings. Around 2,585 students are enrolled, with 108 nationalities represented within the student body. The university has both US and UAE accreditation for all of its programs, and offers intensive English language programs at its Center for English Proficiency (CfEP), to develop the language skills of students before they commence their studies.
Established in 1997 by the Emir of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the University of Sharjah ranks 651-700 in the QS World University Rankings and 19th in the Arab region rankings. The university aims to become a leading academic institution in the Middle East and around the world, and plays an important role in the socioeconomic development of the emirate of Sharjah.
Despite still having a hereditary governing system, the UAE offers a relatively open and tolerant society, and certainly a diverse one. An estimated 13% of the population are native Emiratis; the rest are expats, mainly from Asia, Europe and North America. However, despite the large expat population, it is important to be aware of local customs and laws on public conduct to avoid causing offence – or getting arrested!
The first thing to mention about Dubai is its incredible skyline, featuring more ‘supertall’ skyscrapers than any other city. Among them is the Burj Khalifa, which at just under 830m is the world’s tallest manmade structure.
Other impressive feats of modern construction include the three Palm Islands (the world’s biggest manmade islands), the ‘world’ islands (designed to resemble the world when viewed from above) and Ski Dubai (the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort). The city also won a bid to host the next Expo event in 2020, which is expected to yield AED 89 billion in added economic activities.
Towards the outskirts of the city is Dubai International Academic City, an area which is home to 27 university campuses run by institutions from 11 different countries. These include branch campuses run by Australia’s University of Wollongong, the UK’s Middlesex University and the US’s Michigan State University.
Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers are not quite as awe-inspiring as Dubai’s, but then again, who needs the world’s tallest building when you’ve got the world’s most expensive Grand Prix circuit?
However, that’s not to say that the architecture isn’t pretty impressive. Take, for example, the striking circular design of the new Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus, with a central dome based on the prestigious university’s iconic main building in Paris.
As well as Paris-Sorbonne, New York University also has a branch campus in the city, as does the New York Film Academy. There’s also the relatively young Abu Dhabi University, which has a campus on the edge of the city (and another in Al Ain), with well-developed support systems for international students.
Sharjah is the third-largest city in the United Arab Emirates and the capital of the state that shares its name. Sharjah’s University City, similar to Dubai’s International Academic City, is an area with a high concentration of universities. These include the American University of Sharjah, the University of Sharjah, Skyline University College, Sharjah Teaching Hospital and the men’s and women’s colleges of the Higher Colleges of Technology.
Around seven miles from the city center, University City forms its own community, with a selection of shops, banks, restaurants and sports facilities, as well as student accommodation.
Those who do leave the campus to head into Sharjah itself will find plenty to do. There’s the Eye of the Emirates, a 60m-high observation wheel offering views across Sharjah and Dubai; the spectacular Blue Souk shopping center; and the beautiful Khalid Lagoon, which has the third-tallest fountain in the world and hosts the annual F1 Powerboat Race. Sharjah is a new entry in the Best Student Cities 2016, scoring especially well in the ‘student mix’ category of the index, thanks to its highly international student community.
To study in the UAE, you’ll need to apply to your chosen university online by the May/June before the start of your program. To apply, you’ll generally need to provide a completed application form, a valid passport, certificates and transcripts of your most recent academic qualification, academic references and proof of proficiency in English.
While each institution sets its own admission requirements, state universities often expect students to be proficient in speaking Arabic, as well as English – the main language used at universities in the UAE. If you are a non-native English speaker, IELTS/TOEFL results are likely to be required.
Tuition fees vary, as universities in the UAE set their own fees. The continued economic success of the region means that studying in the UAE can be relatively expensive. While program fees vary significantly, prices for a master’s degree range from around AED 48,000 (~US$13,070) to a hefty AED 120,000 (~US$32,670) for some specialized graduate programs.
To gain a visa to study in the UAE, you’ll need a sponsor who is resident in the country. If you have no relatives or contacts based in the UAE, the university offering you a place will usually do this for you. You can apply for your visa online, but remember there is no guarantee of acceptance even with a sponsor. Usually a student residence visa will only be issued for one year at a time, and can then be renewed. The application costs up to AED 3,000 (US$820), in addition to a deposit of AED 1,000 (US$270).
These are the documents you’ll typically need to provide:
On arrival in the country, you should also expect to be asked to undergo a medical examination at an authorized center, which will include testing for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, leprosy and syphilis. Anyone testing positive for any of these, with the exception of syphilis, will be deported.