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: 2022-03-30

Capital:  Abu Dhabi

Population:  9.9 million (July 2021 est.)

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity):  $655.8 billion (2019 est.)

Currency:  Emirati dirhams (AED)

Language:  Arabic (official)


UNESCO Student Mobility Number

The United Arab Emirates has 13,480 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.


CIA World Factbook

22.39% of the population in the UAE is under 25 years old.



The UAE is a very competitive education market within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.  It has a large presence of established public and private institutions.

Education remains a top government priority to create a diversified, knowledge-based economy and reduce the dependency on oil.  The UAE Vision 2021, launched in 2010, emphasizes the development of a first-rate education system.  As such, this sector continues to experience rapid expansion.  Education represents 16.3% of the country’s $16 billion federal budget for 2022.  The UAE has also devised a “National Strategy for Higher Education 2030” that seeks to equip future generations of students with technical and practical skills to strengthen the labor market.  It also aims to strengthen accreditation standards, set a framework of qualifications, and further develop the curricula to match international standards.  In addition, the UAE’s Strategic Education Plan 2017-2021 seeks to raise the upper secondary graduation rate to 98% and pre-school enrollment rate to 95%, among other targets.

A massive vaccination campaign was conducted in 2021 across the country.  As a result, the UAE reached one of the highest vaccination rates worldwide very early on.  UAE authorities announced that all schools and universities (https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/2021/10/05/abu-dhabi-schools-to-ease-covid-19-safety-measures-based-on-vaccination-rates/) will return to 100% capacity from January 2021, but must continue to follow Covid-19 safety measures (https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/latest-covid-19-rules-in-dubai-and-abu-dhabi-what-you-need-to-know-1.1155777).  Authorities recommended that all eligible teachers, support staff, and pupils receive a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to gain protection from the new variants (https://www.thenationalnews.com/coronavirus/2021/10/21/covid-19-vaccines-will-i-need-a-booster-dose-to-travel-this-winter/).  Dubai’s private schools ended distance learning in October 2020 (https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/2021/08/22/when-do-children-go-back-to-school-for-the-new-academic-year/).  However, some schools across the country continued to offer hybrid education in academic year 2021-2022.

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.  Under this new mandate, ADEK is responsible for regulating private schools and higher education in Abu Dhabi.  In 2018, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and ADEK announced a plan for the standardization of the UAE’s education systems to support a unified and highly performing education sector across the UAE.

The K-12 education sector is strongly dominated by private schools.  Private schools in the UAE offer around 17 different curricula, with a predominance of UK, U.S., and Indian models.

Knowledge and Human Development (KHDA) in Dubai:  Established in 2006, KHDA is responsible for inspecting all private schools in Dubai to ensure proper quality of education, from early learning to higher and continuing education.  Along with the Dubai Education Council (DEC), it is responsible for the overall governance and development of the education sector.=

Dubai is home to two education free zones: Dubai Academic City (DAC) for primary, secondary, and higher education and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) for tertiary education.  DAC was created in 2006 by TECOM Investments and aims to position Dubai as an education hub.  It has established industry and university partnerships to help students build skills that make them employable.  DIAC includes 28 international universities.  Moreover, the Dubai government has established the Dubai Knowledge Village, a free zone for educational institutions in the region.

Due to the transient nature of the expatriate population in the UAE, parents prefer to enroll their children in international private schools.

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



Higher Education:  During the academic year 2020-2021, the UAE had 1,737 students in the United States in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs, according to the 2021 Open Doors Report, a decrease of 16.2% from the previous year.

Undergraduate and Graduate Education:  1,399 Emirati students enrolled in undergraduate education in the United States during the 2020-2021 academic year, a decrease of 15.5% from the previous year, and 233 enrolled in graduate-level studies, representing an 8.6% decrease.  There is continued demand for study in the United States in graduate, undergraduate, and non-degree studies.  However, there is strong competition from the United Kingdom, where a large number of students travel for study. 

There is also a demand to open higher education institutions in the UAE.  In October 2020, the U.S.-UAE launched a bilateral Strategic Dialogue, including education as one of the strategic sectors to advance institutional capacity and economic diversification.

Opportunities in the higher education sector include institutional partnerships between U.S. and UAE universities, support for college preparation programs, and faculty exchange and short-term student exchange to promote a culture of curiosity, innovation, and academic achievement across the UAE’s education system.

Community College:  Scholarship granting entities in the UAE do not include community colleges in their list of approved universities.  Community colleges are more attractive to non-Emirati students residing in the UAE, which constitute a large majority of the population.  Community colleges looking to recruit students based in the UAE should focus on the unique experiences and values offered to students.  They should highlight programs and partnerships with highly ranked universities and skills training programs.

Secondary Education:  U.S. support is needed to train staff, UAE high-school counselors, and English teachers.  The U.S. government is working with the UAE Ministry of Education to leverage U.S. expertise for the professional development of English teachers and counselors.

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 fees in the low- to mid-tuition range, structured around the International Baccalaureate (IB) and U.S. curriculum, among others.  There is also an opportunity to leverage the UAE’s drive to become a test bed for innovation by introducing schools with modern, digital approaches to education.

Online Programs: The UAE Ministry of Education does not award scholarships to Emirati students enrolled in online programs.  Opportunities exist for two-way virtual exchange programs between U.S. and UAE universities.  As an example, American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) signed an agreement with Wayne State University (WSU) in October 2020.

In October 2018, the UAE launched Madrasa, 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.

Research & Development:  Joint collaboration in research and development presents opportunities for U.S. and UAE universities.

Professional Training Services:  Opportunities exist for programs in executive education, training opportunities, or leadership development.  However, many large companies build their programs in-house.

Education Technology:  Opportunities exist to expand ties between the U.S. and the UAE through connections with top U.S. education technology companies.



According to International Education Specialists’ (IDP) UAE office, the digital marketing strategies used by students are the following:

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 among 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 institution’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is strong.  Some of the 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 counselors and local schools.  These events allow students the opportunity to meet the universities directly or through virtual channels.        





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Maya Najm, Senior Commercial Specialist

U.S. Commercial Service – Abu Dhabi, UAE

Phone:  +971 2 414 2518

Email:  Maya.Najm@trade.gov