Education in the UAE
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A comprehensive guide about the education system and international schools
There is a mixed and multi-faceted offer of education and international schools in the UAE: public and private schools, public and private universities, all of them now open to expats. However, costs and competition are fierce, so be ready for a hard fight to get the best education for your offspring.
The UAE has a good and fairly comprehensive system of public education that is free to UAE citizens. The development of this system has successfully raised education standards across the country and led to almost universal literacy for men and women in the country.
Expat families can now choose to send their children to these public schools too, but non-citizens do have to pay fees. Also, these may not be the best schools for children who don’t speak Arabic, which is still the principal language of instruction. Most parents choose to send their children to one of the many international schools in the UAE. These are often the best option for internationals children, allowing them to study international curriculums and do so in their own language.
The UAE also has a blossoming higher education scene with large numbers of men and women from the federation attending university. The public universities are free for citizens, but not for expats, who – just as with schools – may prefer the numerous private, international, options. Competition for the best schools and higher education can be fierce, especially for expats. Keep reading our guide about UAE education and get a head start
How is the education system in the UAE?
- In the 1950s, there were but few schools in the UAE, which were all exclusively open to boys.
- Primary and secondary education is based on a four-tier system.
- Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular offer various educational institutions for kids with special needs.
- Due to education reforms and an adult literacy program, more than 95% of UAE women can read and write today.
- Since 2001, public schools in the UAE have been accepting expat students.
From Desert to Classroom: A Brief History of the UAE Education System
The school system of the UAE, in the way it exists today, is relatively new and has evolved over the past 60 years. In the 1950s, there were only very few formal schools in the Emirates and all of them were exclusively open to boys. When oil was discovered in the 1960s and the refinement process was taken up in Abu Dhabi, the government took measures to expand the education system and build additional schools. Even when the UAE was officially established, schools could mostly be found in urban areas and accommodated only around 28,000 students. Those who were looking to pursue higher education often attended universities outside the country, usually in the UK or the USA.
Today we can see a significant change in these numbers simply by looking at the number of students attending public school in the UAE. In 2007, around 650,000 students — 60% of all students in the country — attended public schools in the UAE.
A Four-Tier System
In the UAE, education at the primary and secondary level is universal and compulsory up to grade nine. The system, which was first implemented in 1970, is based on a four tier process:
- kindergarten for four- to five-year-olds
- primary school for six- to eleven-year-olds
- the preparatory stage for children between the ages of 12 and 14
- secondary school for children between the ages of 15 and 17
Some children also attend a technical secondary school from the age of 12 onwards until their graduation at 17 or 18 years of age.
The language of instruction in public schools is Arabic, while English is often taught as a second language. The schools are publicly funded and monitored by the Ministry of Education and, while their main purpose is to prepare students for higher education or professional success, they also incorporate the basic norms and values of the UAE into the system.
For UAE nationals, public schools are free of charge. Since 2001, expat students are also welcome to attend public schools. However, expat families will have to pay a fee for that and the Arabic curriculum might not be easy to follow for expat kids.
Special Education for Special Kids
In order to support students with special needs, the UAE government signed the Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Moreover, there are various vocational and rehabilitation centers across the country which offer special education. On top of that, people with special needs have certain rights according to the UAE Disability Act.
In education, this means that both public and private schools have to provide equal access to all kids and cannot refuse admission to children with special needs. They can also not fail or hold back students with special needs. Additional fees for special education services have to be previously approved by the Ministry of Education.
Many emirates, though not all, have public and private schools which offer education to students with special needs. Moreover, there are nurseries and therapy centers which support children with learning disabilities. These include the following:
- Future Center in Abu Dhabi
- Al Noor Speech Hearing and Development Center in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
- Dubai Autism Center
- Dubai Center for Special Needs
- Dubai Community Health Center
- Dubai Early Child Development Center
- Rashid Paediatric Therapy Center Dubai
- Tamkeen in Dubai
- Lexicon Reading Center in Dubai
- SNF Development Center in Dubai
- ABA Center for Special Needs in Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah
Before you move to the UAE with your special needs child, it is highly recommended to do a lot of research. The expat hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi might be more likely to offer the kind of care and education that your child needs and this should be taken into account during your job and housing search.
Learning from under the Abaya: Women in Education
Today girls and women participate actively in the UAE’s education system, be it as students or teachers. This was not always the case. In 1975, the literacy rate among women amounted only to 31%, compared to 54% among men. After the government, together with the UAE Women’s Federation, launched an adult literacy program, this rate increased drastically. Today, 96% of all women in the UAE can read and write.
Since the education reform, the UAE offers a comprehensive curriculum to both boys and girls. It is safe to say that women in the UAE are taking full advantage of the opportunities offered to them. Each year, women graduate from the UAE University in a variety of fields, including arts, engineering, science, media and communication, and computer technology.
It is worth mentioning that at public schools and colleges, gender segregation is still the norm. Even schools which accept both male and female students teach boys and girls in separate classrooms. This offers Muslim girls a safe space, for instance to remove their abaya on hot summer days. However, some single-gender institutions have started to admit small groups of the opposite sex, in hopes of better preparing their students for working life where they will have to deal with colleagues and business partners of both genders.
A Place for Expat Kids in Emirati Schools
Expat parents who plan to stay in their host country for a longer period of time and want their children to integrate well into local culture, often think about sending the little ones to a local school. Since 2001, expat kids are welcome to attend public schools in all seven Emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, students are admitted based on merit and, considering that not all expat kids are fluent in the language of instruction, local schools may not always be the best choice. When it comes to costs, public schools may be somewhat cheaper than the international schools catering exclusively to expats. However, they still come at a price.
No matter whether expat parents prefer a public or a private school for their child, they will have to prepare themselves for the enrollment process being an uphill battle. You can find out more about international schools in the UAE from our guide.
Daycare and kindergarten
- Childcare facilities charge high fees and often don’t accept children younger than 18 months.
- Nannies and maids are quite common in the UAE and often help with both household chores and child rearing.
- Only families and women working in specific professions can sponsor foreign nannies or maids.
According to the Expat Insider 2015 survey, family life in the UAE is rather safe but also very expensive. The vast majority of survey respondents is satisfied with their children’s health and safety, as well as their kids’ general well-being. However, while more than 60% are happy with the childcare options at hand, the UAE only ranks 36th out of 41 countries when it comes to the costs of childcare and education. After all, childcare options are aplenty, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but they do come at a hefty price.
UAE Kindergartens — Where the Rugrats Run Loose
The Emirates, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular, offer a lot of options for expat parents who want to send their kids to a nursery or kindergarten. These childcare facilities usually prepare children for a good primary education and some of them cost as much as (or even more than) private schools. Of course, their waiting lists are just as long.
Each childcare center has its own specifications. It makes sense to contact some of the kindergartens of your choice to find out how long they are open and what the minimum age is. Many childcare facilities do not accept kids under the age of 18 months. Keep in mind that some kindergartens do not provide lunches and afternoon programs so you may have to pick your child up at lunchtime and find another arrangement for the rest of the day if you work fulltime.
Childcare Facilities in Abu Dhabi
- Odyssey Nursery
- Apple Bee Nursery
- Kipina Kids Nursery
- Spring Fields Nursery
- Falcon British Nursery
- Redwood Montessori Nursery
- Humpty Dumpty Nursery
- British Orchard Nursery
- Alphabet Street Nursery
Childcare Facilities in Dubai
- British Orchard Nursery
- Odyssey Nursery
- Dovecote Nursery
- Emerald City Nursery
- Jumeirah International Nursery School
- Kangaroo Kids Nursery
- Little Land Nursery & Montessori Center
- Wonder Years Nursery
- Yellow Brick Road Nursery
- Little Wonders Nursery
- Kids World Nursery
- Kidville Nursery
Childcare Facilities in Sharjah
- Lollipop Nursery & Daycare
- British Orchard Nursery
- Little Wonders Nursery
- Kids World Nursery
- Little Angel British Nursery
- Future International Nursery
The Curriculum — Montessori and More
Childcare centers offer a lot more than just a space for your children to play or a few supervisors who make sure that the kids eat, sleep, and don’t accidentally kill themselves. Kindergartens and childcare centers often work with dedicated and qualified staff and follow a specific curriculum or approach, such as the Montessori nursery schools, for instance.
The goal of all of them is to support children in developing social and emotional, as well as language, motoric, and academic skills. Because the approach can vary a lot for different facilities, make sure that you are on board with the rules and educational focus of the childcare center of your choice before you enroll your child.
Placement and Fees — Paying Your Way In
Unlike public schools in the UAE, public childcare facilities and kindergartens usually only accept Emirati children. Fortunately, there are a myriad of private and international kindergartens for expat children in the UAE. The bad news is that most of them are located in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. If you have settled in one of these expat hubs of the country and are ready to place your child in a kindergarten, childcare center or pre-school, you should learn all about the admission process first.
Of course, the requirements will differ between facilities and it really depends on the childcare center of your choice which documents you have to submit beforehand. So make sure to contact each place you are interested in individually.
The following is an incomplete list of requirements to give you an idea of the kind of information you might have to provide:
- Registration form
- Medical information (immunization records, allergy information, medical consent forms)
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of medical insurance card
- Copy of child’s and parents’ passports with valid visa
- Passport sized photographs
- Attendance information
- Registration and term fees
- Child’s profile (information on their learning process, nutrition, potty training, etc.)
The fees also vary strongly. Aside from the usual term fees, you might be asked to pay additional registration fees, medical fees, and deposit fees, as well as late pick up and early drop-off fees (whenever applicable). Ask the childcare facility of your choice for a detailed breakdown of the costs so that you know what you are dealing with and whether you are able to afford it in the first place.
If you are working full time and/or your child is too young to be accepted at one of the many childcare facilities in the UAE, you might want to hire a nanny or maid to take care of your little one. This is a rather common practice among expats (and well-to-do locals) in the UAE. However, it also comes with quite a few challenges and costs.
Nannies and Maids — Lending a Hand at Home
Depending on your work load and needs, you can either hire a nanny who takes care of your kids for a few hours per day or you can go with a live-in nanny instead. In any case, you as the employer will be responsible for their well-being and, in some cases, for their visa. Keep in mind that you have to adhere to certain requirements and regulations which also detail the salary your nanny should receive.
Although hiring a nanny to help take care of your children or a maid who handles the household in addition is rather common in the UAE, there has been some controversy in recent years. Many maids have been exploited as cheap labor and were denied any free time or vacation. Consequentially, many countries from which maids and nannies have traditionally been recruited, including Ethiopia, Nepal, and Indonesia, have issued bans. Thus, it has gotten harder to find a suitable maid or nanny.
Can You Afford Your Household Help?
Your maid or nanny should receive a monthly salary of 1,000–2,000 AED. As the best way to hire a nanny is still with the help of an agency, you also have to factor in the agency fees. Because of shortages due to the bans mentioned above, the cost of hiring a household help has also risen significantly in recent years.
You can expect to make a one-off payment of about 15,000–17,000 AED in arrangement and visa fees, in addition to the monthly salary. Every country has specific requirements regarding the minimum salary and it is important to stick to them. (Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t pay your nanny or maid a bit more than is recommended.) In addition, you have to pay for the plane fare to your maid’s home country once every two years, plus one month’s paid leave.
If you think that cutting some corners and hiring a maid privately can save you some money, think again! Hiring domestic help without proper sponsorship or visa can result in a 50,000 AED fine for you and a 100,000 AED fine as well as possible imprisonment for the person you hired. So make sure you are well-informed about the legal necessities.
Requirements for Hiring a Nanny or Maid
In order to legally hire a nanny or maid, you need to sponsor their visa. The requirements are roughly as follows:
- You have to provide proof that you earn more than 6,500 AED per month (after the cost of accommodation).
- You have to pay a fee of one-month salary of your maid, plus an additional charge of about 2,000 AED which goes to the Department of Naturalization and Residency.
- You must prove that you live in the UAE with your family.
- You must provide your maid with a proper work contract.
Individuals living without a family are not allowed to sponsor maids. An exception is made for female expatriates who work in certain professions, such as teachers, lawyers or doctors. They may sponsor one maid.
Please remember that you cannot hire a member of your immediate or extended family to have them qualify for visa sponsorship. Your nanny must be recruited from India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, or Bangladesh. If you wish to hire a nanny or maid from your home country, you need to obtain an affidavit from your embassy or consulate proving that they are not related to you.
- Most international and private schools for expat kids are located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
- Tuition, curriculum, and price are important factors to consider when choosing a school.
- Established international schools have long waiting lists; it’s often worth applying to schools which have only just opened their doors.
- Expats who have to shoulder school fees without their employer’s support need to keep an eye on their budget.
Even though expat kids have been allowed to attend local schools in the UAE for a few years now, most expat parents still choose an international school over an Emirati state school. The advantages are obvious: their child will be taught in an international environment, together with other expat kids in relatable situations, in a language they actually understand. Unless you hail from an Arabic-speaking country, the Arabic curriculum might just be a little too much to take on.
Luckily, there are a lot of international schools in the UAE to accommodate the needs of the many expat families flocking to the country each year. Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular have large expat communities which is why you will find most international schools in these emirates. Aside from the schools which offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) to kids from all over the world, there are some institutions which cater (almost) exclusively to children from the USA, UK, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, for example. While some expat parents choose these types of schools, many prefer an international institution at which English is the language of instruction.
How to Choose an Expat School
Although the large variety of international schools may seem like a blessing at first, newly arrived expat parents will soon discover that getting their child into one of these schools is challenging. However, before we tackle enrollment and tuition, let’s take a closer look at how to choose an international school in the first place.
The Nuts and Bolts of It: Determining Factors
There are a lot of aspects to keep in mind when trying to decide on a school. Parents often look to the most popular, well-established schools, hoping to provide their children with the best education possible. The factors which play the biggest role are the following:
- age of school — well-established schools are usually more popular
- curriculum — a good and diverse curriculum is important for many parents
- price of school — many parents will apply to affordable schools first
- age group — not all international schools cater to all age groups; it is important to find the right fit
Moreover, international schools are regularly inspected and ranked by various authorities such as the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai. Schools which have been ranked “Outstanding” are a lot more popular among expat parents, of course, but this does not guarantee that they are the best choice for your child.
How to Beat the Crowd
Naturally, you will keep an eye on all of the factors mentioned above, as you should. However, thinking outside the box when looking for a good international or private school in the UAE can be a great advantage. Don’t just target the schools which are considered exceptional because your chances of having your child accepted at one of them are very slim. Be open to other schools as well. For instance, smaller and newer schools are much more likely to have free places. These schools are often not rated by organizations such as KHDA yet, and you might get in before word spreads about their excellent curriculum and facilities.
Each year new, great private schools open their doors in the UAE. These schools usually have a rather high rate of admission, sometimes up to 45%. At the end of the day, the school search will be a little more successful if you consider options that are off the beaten track.
Another factor which you should be flexible about is the school’s curriculum. Instead of focusing exclusively on the IB schools, try to keep an open mind. For instance, about 32% of all private schools offer the curriculum of the UK. However, many UK families also consider US or Australian schools for their kids. Similarly, expats from the US, Australia, or South Africa sometimes like to send their kids to schools with a UK curriculum. It makes sense to talk to the schools directly, of course, as policies will differ from school to school. Some of them may base their curriculum on the requirements of a certain country but might still offer the option to obtain an international degree.
The Art of Getting In
No matter which schools you choose to apply to in the end, make sure to contact them early on, especially if you have some of the more popular international schools on your list. Remember that even if you apply early, you may be put on a waiting list.
Try to gather your children’s school records and any other relevant paperwork before you even start your search. Some schools may ask for a recommendation by previous teachers in addition to report cards and immunization records. You can find out which documents you need for enrollment from school websites. Many schools will also offer more detailed information upon request.
Many private and international schools also invite applicants for an interview in order to assess whether the child is a good fit for their institution. This might involve an examination to determine your kid’s skills and knowledge.
Pinching Pennies: Keep an Eye on Your Budget
Costs are a big issue for many expat parents. Not only do UAE state schools charge fees for expat students, private and international schools do so, too. In addition to the tuition, many international schools charge a non-refundable application and assessment fee, as well as an acceptance fee. Even though every parent is in principle ready to pay whatever it takes to allow their children to get the best education possible, you should not underestimate the costs. They can add up quickly and put a huge dent in your budget. You should also keep in mind that fees often tend to increase from one year to the next.
Some expat parents are lucky enough to have their employer pay for their children’s education or receive help in securing a spot at one of these schools. However, chances are that you will have to shoulder the costs alone.
Tuition fees depend on the age, facilities, and reputation of a school. International and private schools in Dubai, for instance, charge between 1,800 AED and 97,000 AED per year. The approximate average tuition of a Dubai private school is around 19,000 AED. Although it is easier to get a place at a school which was only established recently, the older international schools are often the more affordable choices. At the same time, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality or, simply put, just because a school is expensive, doesn’t mean that it is exceptional.
Generally speaking, IB schools are the most expensive choice, followed by UK and American schools, and Indian schools, with a few exceptions, of course. The costs are a lot to bear for expat parents, and there are quite a few families who have contemplated sending their children to school abroad or moving back home for this reason.
You should do a lot of research before you settle on a school. At least the tuition fees will help you weed out the schools you won’t be able to afford.
A Starting Point: Selected International Schools
There are too many international and private schools suitable for expat kids in the UAE to list them all. This is why the list below is by no means comprehensive and merely acts as a starting point for your own research:
- GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi
- AIS Abu Dhabi International School
- American International School in Abu Dhabi
- Al Bateen Secondary School
- Al Ain International School
- Emirates International School
- Dubai International Academy
- Jumeirah English Speaking School
- Universal American School
- Uptown School
- Ras Al Kaimah Academy
- The International School of Choueifat in Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, and Ras Al Kaimah
- Wesgreen International School Sharjah
- Sharjah British International School
- India International School Sharjah
- Omadaa International School Ajman
- The Bloomington Academy Ajman
- Altogether, 95% of female and 80% of male Emirati students approach higher education.
- Public universities are free for Emirati students only and admission is very competitive.
- Most expat students enroll in private universities where the language of instruction is English.
- Some renowned foreign universities offer degree courses in the UAE to expats and Emiratis through global partnerships.
In the UAE, higher education plays an important role when it comes to planning one’s career. Unsurprisingly, the admission rate at public, private, and international universities, as well as technical institutions in the UAE, is quite high with 95% female and 80% male Emirati students approaching higher education. Most universities are located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but private universities in particular also have campuses in the smaller emirates.
Where Emiratis Go to Study
As is the case with public schools in the UAE, Emiratis may attend local public universities free of charge. Here too, classes and even campuses are often gender-segregated. However, there are only three public institutions of higher education across the UAE: UAE University, Zayed University, and the Higher Colleges of Technology.
The student body of the UAE University in Al Ain has increased from only 502 students in 1977 to about 14,000 today. The vast majority (about 80%) are women. The university offers several undergraduate and some graduate degrees in different fields, including business and economics, education, law, food and agriculture, engineering, and information technology.
Zayed University in Abu Dhabi used to be an all-women’s institution which has by now been opened to students of all genders. Still, female students make up the majority of the student body. The university has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and offers most of its courses in English. Students can obtain degrees from five different colleges: Arts and Sciences, Business Sciences, Communication and Media Sciences, Education, and Information Systems.
Another great public institution are the Higher Colleges of Technology, with campuses in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, Fujairah, Madinat Zayed, Ras Al Khaimah, Ruwais and Sharjah and a student body that is 23,000 strong. As such, it is unsurprisingly the biggest public institution of higher education in the UAE. More than 40 of their programs, including Applied Communications, Education, Engineering Technology, Health Sciences, and Computer Information Sciences, are taught in English.
All three universities offer high-quality education, but are also rather competitive. For expats, getting a place at one of them is not easy and in some cases even impossible. (The Higher Colleges of Technology, for instance, only accept UAE nationals.) However, even if the institution you applied to welcomes you with open arms, you will have to compete with Emirati graduates who flock to these universities.
Unlike UAE nationals, expat students have to pay tuition fees if they want to study at a public university. At the time of writing in 2016, Zayed University charged international students 75,000 AED per academic year, for instance, while UAE University did not list the fees they charge. So make sure to contact the university directly to inquire about the current costs.
Keeping It Private
On the other hand, the number of private universities in the UAE is quite high. Aside from expat students, many Emirati students enroll in private universities as well, in order to gain an international education. The majority of private institutions have an international accreditation, making them a great starting point for an international career. Some of these universities include:
- American Universities in Dubai (AUD), Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK), and Sharjah (AUS)
- American University in the Emirates (AUE)
- University of Sharjah
- Ajman University of Science and Technology
- Abu Dhabi University
- ALHOSN University
- Al Falah University
- European International College
- Khalifa University
- The British University in Dubai
- Canadian University Dubai
Beyond Borders — Global Partnerships
Aside from the private universities and colleges mentioned above, there is another type of institute of higher education in the UAE which caters mostly to expat students and those aspiring to an international career: international universities (often more accurately referred to as global partnerships). Unlike international schools, which are usually independent, international universities are branches of or partnered with prestigious foreign universities.
Most of them are located in special zones such as Dubai Knowledge Village and Academic City. They are supposed to attract students who are otherwise unable to attend a university abroad and include the following:
- The New York University in Abu Dhabi offers undergraduate programs in arts and humanities, engineering, science, and social science, as well as doctoral research opportunities in biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, and engineering.
- The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology was created in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
- The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is occasionally holding classes for people working towards a master’s degree in public health.
- The New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) has a campus at the CERT (Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training) Technology Park in Abu Dhabi. It offers the same degrees as its counterpart in New York.
- The Paris Sorbonne University also has a campus in Abu Dhabi and offers French programs and degrees in humanities, law, management and economics, as well as the sciences.
Technical Education and a Hands-On Approach
In addition to the education provided by local and international universities, students can opt for technical or vocational training. Various schools and institutes offer specialized education and training, including the following:
- The Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies provides standardized professional training and educational programs, collaborating with prestigious institutions overseas.
- The ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) Technical Institute offers education in the fields of process operations, mechanics, electricity, and instrumentation technology with the aim of providing skilled workers for ADNOC.
- The Petroleum Institute has a simpler approach but with the goal of providing education to professionals in the oil and gas industry and those who aim to enter this field.
- The Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government offers a Master of Public Administration study program and promotes better governance and public policy across the UAE.
- The Emirates Aviation University focuses on aerospace and academic studies and was originally established in order to provide sufficient training to private students and corporate organizations.
Ready to Learn — Admission Requirements
Admission requirements vary depending on the university and the program (undergraduate or graduate) you are applying for. It is important that you know and understand these requirements before you turn in your application to ensure that your application is complete. You will have to submit a complete application form, as well as a copy of your passport and your residency visa.
Most private universities use English as their main language of instruction. Prospective students have to provide proof of sufficient English skills, usually in the form of a TOEFL or IELTS certificate, together with their high school diploma or an equivalent thereof. Most universities expect a minimum overall achievement of 60-80% in the secondary school certificate.
If you apply for a science or engineering program, you may also be asked to take an admissions test in mathematics.
The Cost of It All — Tuition Fees
Expat students have to pay tuition at all universities in the UAE. The fees for an academic year of higher education vary, of course.
For instance, the American University in Dubai charges a basic annual tuition fee (39,000 AED at the time of writing) for students taking between 12 and 16 credit hours, plus a service fee of 300 AED per semester. Students who take less than 12 or more than 16 credit hours are charged per credit. The same system applies to summer sessions.
The University of Sharjah also applies an annual fee to students who have signed up for 12 to 16 credit hours. However, here it also depends on which college students choose to study. Its College of Arts charges an annual fee of about 35,000 AED, while its College of Human Medicine requires a tuition fee of 97,500 AED per year.
The Khalifa University, on the other hand, has no annual tuition fee and charges students per credit hour. Preparatory and undergraduate courses are cheaper than masters and doctoral courses.
Most private universities offer scholarships and financial aid to Emiratis and expat students to help them shoulder the cost. So, if you are unsure whether you can afford higher education in the UAE, you should get in touch with the university of your choice and inquire about the financial aid they offer.
- Arabic dialects vary from region to region and are virtually unintelligible at times.
- Due to the high number of expats in the UAE, English, Farsi, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, and other languages are also common.
- Although Arabic is the official language, Emirati teachers are concerned about the poor writing and speaking skills of many of their students.
- Language schools in the UAE teach Modern Standard Arabic instead of the Emirati dialect.
Spoken by 300 million people (mostly in the Middle East and North Africa), Arabic is one of the most important and widely-used languages in the entire world. It is also the religious language in which the Qur’an was revealed. Thus, many Muslims around the world learn it to a certain level of proficiency even if it is not their mother tongue. For non-Muslims, learning to speak and read Arabic can still be an advantage in a lot of areas of expat life in the Emirates.
The Nuts and Bolts — Basic Language Facts
Arabic is the official language in the UAE. However, due to the high number of expats who move to the country every year, street signs, restaurant menus, and necessary documents are often available in English as well.
Like Hebrew and Aramaic, Arabic is a Semitic language, written in cursive from right to left. The Arabic alphabet is also used in other languages such as Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, and Kurdish. However, while Arabic learners would be able to read sentences in those languages, they would usually not be able to understand them.
The formal Arabic language, also called Classical Arabic, is mostly used in written form today. It is still taught by many religious leaders and in schools around the world, though. Modern Standard Arabic is similar to its formal counterpart but much easier to learn. Many foreign language schools focus on this language style. Both Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic are forms of literary Arabic, also called Fus-ha.
In addition, there are many Arabic dialects which vary from region to region. Between this multitude of dialectic variations, four major dialects have been identified: Arabic of the Maghreb (North Africa), Levantine Arabic (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as Palestine and Israel), Egyptian Arabic (Egypt and the Sudan), and Iraqi / Gulf Arabic. These dialects are purely spoken and differ so much from each other that they are virtually unintelligible at times.
A Multitude of Voices — Languages Spoken in the UAE
As mentioned briefly before, English is a common denominator for expats and globally-minded Emiratis. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, cities which don’t just attract expats but are also important tourist destinations, it is particularly easy to get around with English. However, in other parts of the country, Arabic is still the main and sometimes only language spoken and, most importantly, understood.
Of course, English is not the only foreign language spoken in the UAE. Due to the large number of South Asian and African workers in the country, Bengali, Malayalam, Somali, Tagalog, Tamil, Hindi, and Urdu are rather common as well.
Arabic as a Second Language?
Unfortunately, the language diversity in the UAE has some drawbacks. Emirati teachers keep expressing their concerns over the poor speaking and writing skills of their students. Even in public schools around the country, where Arabic is the main language of instruction, some subjects are taught in English and students seem to fall back on that language more and more often. Written Arabic is the biggest area of concern, but even in daily interactions, Arabic is often not the language of choice.
Currently, the country is discussing the possibility to introduce measures which would make it obligatory for all schools to use spoken and written Arabic as the main language of instruction. This might also affect expat kids at private and international schools. As a result, the children would be more exposed to the local language in the UAE, but they would also have to face a steeper language barrier.
Where to Learn Arabic in the UAE
There are many language schools in the UAE where you can learn Arabic or, if you already know some basics of the language, brush up on your skills. Although most of these schools will probably not teach Emirati Arabic, they will give you the opportunity to learn Modern Standard Arabic.
- Kalemah, a center for Muslims in Dubai, offers free Arabic courses to newly converted Muslims.
- The Eton Institute is located in Dubai’s Knowledge Village and also offers different Arabic classes.
- The Mother Tongue Center in Abu Dhabi specializes in teaching Modern Standard Arabic exclusively to non-native speakers.
- The Berlitz Language Centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain offer both private classes and group courses to learn spoken and written Arabic.
- The Arabic Language Center in Dubai offers classes for beginners, intermediate students, and advanced learners focusing mostly on spoken Arabic.
In addition, this directory lists various Arabic courses all over the UAE. Do not hesitate to also ask your expat friends and colleagues for a recommendation. They may know of a good language school you haven’t considered yet or a private tutor who will successfully teach you the basics of Arabic in no time.