Study in the United Arab Emirates | Top Universities

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 eleven universities in the United Arab Emirates featured within the QS World University Rankings®, and a further eight included in the 2024 edition of the QS Arab Region University Rankings.

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:

United Arab Emirates University 

Placed 284th in the global rankings, United Arab Emirates University is 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.

American University of Sharjah 

The American University of Sharjah (AUS) is ranked joint 348th 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.

Khalifa University 

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 students in the future. 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.

University of Sharjah

Established in 1997 by the Emir of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the University of Sharjah ranks 601-650 in the QS World University 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.

Zayed University

Established in 1998, Zayed University has nearly 6,500 students enrolled currently, with 158 international students. Undergraduate fees range between US$20,000 and US$22,000, while postgraduate fees rise to US$30,000.

American University in Dubai (AUD) 

The American University in Dubai (AUD) is a private university which was established in 1995, ranked 601-650 in the global 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.

Discover more top universities in the United Arab Emirates 

Life in the UAE

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

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.

Read our blog post on the top 10 things to do in Abu Dhabi >


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 was a new entry in the QS Best Student Cities in 2016, and is currently ranked 77th, receiving a notably high score for the Student Mix category, thanks to its highly international student community. 

Explore more of the world’s best cities for students


University applications & tuition fees

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.

Student visas

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:

  • Passport and four passport copies
  • 12 photographs
  • Upon arrival, three passport copies with entry visa to the UAE
  • A letter showing you’ve been offered admission at a UAE university
  • Possibly bank statements showing evidence of funds in the UAE
  • Possibly a tenancy agreement (or letter from the university if you’ll be staying in university accommodation)
  • Copy of tuition fee receipt for the current study year of the program
  • Copy of visa fees receipt for the current study year of the program
  • Postgraduate students will need to prove that they have a recognized undergraduate degree.

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.

Discover the top universities in the Arab Region