United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-01-15

Capital:  Abu Dhabi
Population:  9,992,083 (July 2020 est.)
GDP:  $696 billion (2017 est., Purchasing Power Parity)
Currency:  Emirati dirhams (AED)
Language:  Arabic (official)

UNESCO Student Mobility Number
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has 12,276 Emirati students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

CIA World Factbook
22.39% of the population in the UAE is under 24 years of age. 


Education remains a top government priority in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The UAE Vision 2021, launched in 2010, emphasizes the development of a first-rate education system.[1]  As such, this sector continues to experience rapid expansion.  The UAE’s 2020 federal budget allocated US $2.8 billion to the public higher education and university programs — roughly 15 percent of the total budget, which is the federal plus all seven Emirates.  The estimated cost of public education programs amounts to AED 6.7 billion, or 9.5 percent of the total budget, while higher and university education is expected to cost AED 3.7 billion, or 5.3 percent.[2]  

In line with Vision 2021, the UAE’s Ministry of Education (MoE) has developed the Education 2020 Strategy, which is designed to bring significant qualitative improvement in the education system.  Smart learning programs, new teachers’ codes, licensing and evaluations systems, as well as curriculum revision, including teaching mathematics and science in English, are all part of the strategy.

The COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on education: schools were closed as of March 2020 and homeschooling was implemented until the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.  As a result of the pandemic, Colliers International conducted a survey with education operators and investors in 2020 to get their perspective on online learning for K-12, the challenges they are facing, and their outlook for the academic year 2020-2021.  The survey results indicated that the K-12 sector was significantly impacted by the pandemic, which is expected to last beyond the current academic year. Although there is no uniform approach, some schools looked to offer fee discounts and flexible payment plans and were taking other necessary measures to retain students.

In September 2020, UAE schools re-opened physically, while some offered a hybrid learning structure.  All schools implemented very strict parameters, including limiting capacity in classrooms.  The MoE proposed a document that outlines the protocols, requirements, and precautionary measures that all education establishments in the UAE should follow in order to achieve a safe, healthy, and learning-stimulating environment when education establishments are opened during the Covid-19 pandemic.[3]

The education system in the United Arab Emirates is divided into public schools, private schools, and higher education.  Private institutions are generally not under direct government control but are nevertheless bound by guidelines set forth by the federal ministry and local authorities.  The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees all UAE-based education councils and authorities as per the following:

Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) – Established in 2005, it was formerly known as Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) and was primarily responsible for the management and administration of Abu Dhabi’s public schools, while also acting as the regulatory body that provided licensing and accreditation to private schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the Western Emirates, setting the minimum standards that must be met in terms of educational outcomes, health, safety, and building and site requirements. 

In September 2017, ADEC was renamed the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) and made a government department according to a decree issued by President Sheikh Khalifa.[4]  Under this new mandate, ADEK is responsible for fully regulating private schools and higher education in Abu Dhabi.  In 2018, the MoE and ADEK announced a plan to achieve the standardization of the UAE’s education systems to support a unified and highly performing education sector across the UAE.  The plan will unify the education sector through the development of the Emirati School Model across all emirates. 

Knowledge and Human Development (KHDA) in Dubai – Established in 2006, KHDA[5] is responsible for inspecting all private schools in Dubai to ensure proper quality of education, from early learning to higher and continuing education.

Because expatriates in Dubai move often, many parents prefer to enroll their children in international schools.  Hence, demand for private education has been on the rise, leading to strong overall growth in the education sector.  In the UAE, private school enrollments were expected to increase from approximately 56 percent to 66 percent over the course of the next five years according to a 2018 BCG report titled “Where to Invest Now in GCC Private Education”.

The majority of international schools in demand remain UK curriculum schools.  According to a presentation by Colliers International titled “K12 Schools in Dubai – Academic Year 2018-2019”, 75% of the total new student enrollments in academic year 2018/19 came from UK curriculum schools; Indian schools’ share slightly decreased from 28% to 27%; and U.S. curriculum schools maintained their market share at 17%. IB schools recorded a net addition of 1,371 students, second only to UK curriculum schools, growing their market share slightly from 4.9% to 5.2%.

In higher education, only five foreign universities have full campuses in the UAE including two U.S. institutions: Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai and New York University Abu Dhabi.


In terms of mobility, the United Arab Emirates had 2,074 Emirati students studying in the United States for the academic year 2019-2020, according to the IIE Open Doors Open Data report.[6]  The majority of Emirati students studying abroad come from a public school background.  The report provides the following segmentation:

Graduate Programs: 255 students enrolled in graduate education in 2019, a decrease of 11.6% from the previous year.

Undergraduate: 1,655 students enrolled in undergraduate education in 2019, a decrease of 10.5% from the previous year.              

Non-Degree Studies: 121 students enrolled in non-degree programs in 2019, a decrease of 10.4% from the previous year.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): 43 students enrolled in OPT programs in 2019, a decrease of 36.8% from the previous year.

The top five receiving states are: Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Top fields of study and majors include innovation, space science, engineering (Artificial Intelligence, nuclear, chemical, petroleum), alternative and renewable energy, business, and information technology (including cyber security).


K-12 Education:  According to the 2018 BCG report cited above, there is an oversupply of international private schools with high- and premium-range fees in Dubai, and not enough international private schools with low- and medium-range fees.  In 2017, schools with high- and premium-range fees reportedly began to advertise, implement loyalty programs, and slash their fees by as much as 33% to attract and retain students.  In December 2018, education authorities in Abu Dhabi announced that a total of 10 new schools offering affordable fee structures are set to open in the emirate over the next three years, adding that they will readily make plots and vacant public school buildings available to investors for the development of new schools. According to education experts and consultants, the emirate of Sharjah is also in need of affordable schools with tuition fees ranging from US $5,500 to $9,500.

To meet the needs of Emirati students, there is a need in the UAE for high-quality schools, with a rating of “good” or better, that cater specifically to local preferences (for example- by offering gender segregation and adequate provision of Arabic and religious studies). For expatriate families, there is a need for high-quality schools, with tuition/fees in the low- to mid-range, structured around the International Baccalaureate (IB) and U.S. curriculum, among others.  There is also an opportunity to leverage Dubai’s drive to become a testing spot for innovation by introducing schools with modern, digital approaches to education.

Higher Education:  According to Colliers International, the higher education sector still offers a number of opportunities for investors and operators to grow, as currently, only 15% of total K-12 students attend private universities in Dubai.  Business-related courses remain the most popular choice in Dubai, followed by engineering and agriculture, then media and design.

Simultaneously, there is continued demand for study in the United States in graduate, undergraduate, and non-degree programs.  However, the largest number of tertiary level students from the UAE go to United Kingdom according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.  The United States ranks second.[7]

There is also a demand to open higher education institutions in the UAE. 

There is a total of 30 government-affiliated scholarship granting institutions, which offer a number of scholarships to a select number of top U.S. universities.  Such institutions include ADEK, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), Abu Dhabi Police, Dubai Police, and the Presidential Department.  Online programs are not covered under the scholarship programs.  However, education experts noted that there is a real demand for online programs in executive education.


According to International Education Specialists’ (IDP) UAE office, here are the most effective digital marketing strategies for reaching students in the UAE: 

For most educational webinars and online sessions, UAE-based students use Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as WebEx in rare cases.  These platforms are not only used by in-country schools but also by competitor countries to reach students in the UAE.

Additionally, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube (for streaming videos), and Facebook are the most popular social media sites for UAE students, although Facebook is less popular amongst the younger generation.

The most popular information search site for UAE students is Google. Therefore, it is important to make sure content on educational opportunities is up-to-date and your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy is strong.

Some of the other popular online platforms for UAE students seeking job opportunities are: Gulf Talent, Monster, Bayt.com, and LinkedIn.  However, not all students have a LinkedIn account.  


Students and parents are generally kept informed via email marketing, online, and through the counselors and the local schools.  IDP, for instance, runs seminars on different topics for students and parents to get relevant information.  These events allow students the opportunity to meet the universities directly; physically or through virtual channels.

IDP highlights some key elements to keep in mind for your digital strategy in the UAE:

1.    SEO – ensuring the content is relevant and includes high-ranking keywords to drive organic traffic.

2.    SEM – A good strategy puts the brand right into the hands of the potential students.

3.    Social Media – Ensuring the consortium has a solid social media plan is key for this target audience, and it needs to be beyond just static posts.  An in-depth understanding of what a student considers relevant these days is necessary.  The attention span of students in this region is very limited.  IDP has found that students are looking for real, relatable content; video content; and inspirational content.

4.    Virtual Events – Virtual events are the new norm. The key is in how they are run.  With so many platforms available now, students want something easy and user friendly.

E-Learning and Distance Learning:  In October 2018, the UAE launched Madrasa (https://madrasa.org), a free eLearning platform that provides 5,000 free Arabized videos in general science, math, biology, chemistry, and physics.  It also provides 11 million words of educational content to students from kindergarten to grade 12.[8]

More than 240 Grade 6 students at a UAE Ministry of Education curriculum school have begun using another locally produced education technology solution called Alef.  This new digital learning platform, which has been 36 months in the making, is being touted as a complete end-to-end mainstream form of formal classroom-based academic learning.[9]

Government schools are running a home-teaching program called ‘Learn from Afar’, while private schools are using digital platforms such as Google Classroom, ClassDojo, Seesaw, Teams, and Zoom. ADEK and KHDA launched specialized portals, Activity Platform (https://activityplatform.adek.gov.ae/) and In This Together Dubai (https://www.inthistogetheruae.com/), to support remote learning. Almost overnight, the UAE successfully moved 1.2 million students online.[10]


International Education Show, Oct. 20-22, 2021, Expo Center Sharjah:  https://www.educationshow.ae/

International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF) Dubai, Feb. 09-11, 2021, Virtual MENA: https://www.icef.com/

Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS), Nov. 14-16, 2021, Zabeel Halls 4, 5 & 6, Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai: www.gesseducation.com

Gulf Education and Training Exhibition (GETEX), Mar. 25-27, 2021, Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, Dubai: www.mygetex.com

BETT Middle East and North Africa, TBD 2021, Dubai: https://mea.bettshow.com/Home

Najah Connect, Sept. 2020-Sept. 2021, Abu Dhabi: https://www.najahonline.com/en/najah-connect.html

Najah Virtual Expo, May 23-25, 2021, Abu Dhabi: https://www.najahonline.com/en/VirtualExpo.html


·       U.S. Commercial Service UAE: www.trade.gov/united-arab-emirates

·       U.S. Commercial Service Global Education Team:      https://trade.gov/education-industry

·       Industry and Analysis, Office of Supply Chain, Professional & Business Services: www.trade.gov/professional-and-business-services

·       The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK):      https://www.adek.gov.ae/   

·       Boston Consulting Group:      https://www.colliers.com/en-ae

·       Colliers International :      https://www.colliers.com/en-us/unitedarabemirates

·       EducationUSA Abu Dhabi:      https://educationusa.state.gov/

·       EducationUSA Dubai:      https://educationusa.state.gov/centers/us-consulate-general-dubai

·       International Education Specialists:      https://www.idp.com/uae/

·       Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA):      www.khda.gov.ae/en

·       Ministry of Education – Higher Education Affairs:      www.moe.gov.ae/Ar/Pages/home.aspx


Mustapha Oulhaci, Commercial Assistant
U.S. Commercial Service – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Email:  mustapha.oulhaci@trade.gov

Phone:  +971 56 677 1036


[2] https://u.ae/en/information-and-services/education/education-budget



[4] https://www.adek.abudhabi.ae/en/Pages/default.aspx

[5] www.khda.gov.ae/en

[6] https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Places-of-Origin

[7] http://www.uis.unesco.org

[8] https://u.ae/en/information-and-services/education/elearning-mlearning-and-distant-learning

[9] https://www.itp.net/614631-uae-company-launches-new-digital-education-platform