United Arab Emirates

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

Last published date: 2020-03-10

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

UNESCO Student Mobility Number –
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has 11,240 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 UAE. 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. The UAE’s 2020 federal budget allocated USD2.8 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 AED6.7 billion, or 9.5 percent of the total budget while higher and university education is expected to cost AED3.7 billion, or 5.3 percent.   

The UAE’s education market is expected to grow from $4.4 billion in 2017 to $7.1 billion by 2023 according to a 2018 report released by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) entitled “Where to Invest Now in GCC Private Education”.    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 through English, are all part of the strategy.  

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 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, 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 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 is responsible for inspecting all private schools in Dubai to ensure proper quality of education, from early learning to higher and continuing education.  

Due to the transient nature of the expatriate population in the UAE, 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 are expected to increase from approximately 56 percent to 66 percent over the course of the next five years according to the BCG report cited above. 

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

Similar to K12 education, higher education enrollments in Dubai has been steadily increasing according to a 2018 report by Colliers International entitled “Higher Education in Dubai, UAE Coming of Age”.   The supporting factors identified include: the growing population, the popularity of Dubai with students from neighboring emirates, and the variety of institutions available. There has also been a growing preference towards international higher education institutes amongst Emirati parents and professionals seeking to complete their higher education while working in the emirate. 

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 has 2,941 Emirati students studying in the United States for the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the IIE Open Doors Open Data report.   The majority of Emirati students studying abroad come from a public-school background. The report provides the following segmentation:

  • Graduate Education: 285 students enrolled in graduate education in 2018, an increase of 7.1 percent from the previous year.
  • Undergraduate: 1,873 students enrolled in undergraduate education in 2018, a decrease of 3.5 percent from the previous year.               
  • Non-Degree Studies: 135 students enrolled in non-degree programs in 2018, a decrease of 37.2 percent from the previous year.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT): 68 students enrolled in OPT programs in 2018, a decrease of 4.6 percent from the previous year.

The top five receiving states are: Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Top fields of study and majors: Innovation, Space Science, Engineering (Artificial Intelligence, Nuclear, Chemical, Petroleum), Alternative & Renewable Energy, Business, and Information Technology (including Cyber Security)


K to 12 Education
According to the BCG report cited above, there is currently 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 percent 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 for affordable schools with tuition fees ranging from 5,500 to 9,500 USD.

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 Dubai’s drive to become a test-bed for innovation by introducing schools with modern, digital approaches to education.

Higher Education
According to Colliers International, the higher education sector still offers several opportunities for investors and operators to grow, as currently, only 15 percent of total K12 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 for graduate, under-graduate, and non-graduate studies.  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.   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 several scholarships to a select number of top U.S. universities.  Such institutions include ADEK, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), Abu Dhabi Police, Dubai Police, Presidential Department.  Online programs are not covered under the scholarship programs.  However, educational experts noted that there is a real demand for online programs in executive education.


•    International Education Show, Jan 22-24, 2020, Expo Center Sharjah  www.educationshow.ae 
•    International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF), Feb 10-12, 2020, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai www.icef.com 
•    Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS), Feb 25-27, 2020, Sheikh Saeed Halls, Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai www.gesseducation.com 
•    Gulf Education and Training Exhibition (GETEX), Apr 16-18, 2020, Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, Dubai www.mygetex.com 
•    BETT Middle East and North Africa, Sep 22-23, 2020, Festival Arena, Dubai https://mena.bettshow.com/ 
•    Najah Education & Training Exhibition, Oct 28-30, 2020, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center, Abu Dhabi  https://www.najahonline.com  


•    The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) www.adek.abudhabi.ae   
•    Boston Consulting Group (https://www.bcg.com/en-us/offices/dubai/default.aspx 
•    Colliers International http://www.colliers.com/en-us/unitedarabemirates 
•    EducationUSA Abu Dhabi https://educationusa.state.gov/centers/us-embassy-abu-dhabi
•    EducationUSA Dubai https://educationusa.state.gov/centers/us-consulate-general-dubai 
•    Ministry of Education – Higher Education Affairs www.moe.gov.ae/En/Pages/Home/aspx
•    Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) www.khda.gov.ae/en 
Maya Najm, Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
+971 2 414 2518