If you like the sound of sun, sand, sea and potential tax-free earnings upon graduation you should consider studying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to some of the best universities in the Gulf region

The UAE is located in the middle of the Arabian Gulf and is made up of seven emirates:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dubai
  • Sharjah
  • Ajman
  • Umm Al Qaiwain
  • Ras Al Khaimah
  • Fujairah.

The country enjoys a sub-tropical climate, which ranges from 10 degrees in the winter to 48 degrees in the summer.

The UAE is becoming an increasingly popular study destination thanks to its rapidly developing cities, top-class universities and modern facilities. The fact that the majority of the population speak English and many higher education programmes are taught in the language is another huge draw.

The UAE has extremely low levels of violent and property crime and is generally considered a safe place to live. To avoid falling foul of the law you'll need to respect the country's Islamic culture and local customs.

In your free time you can go on a desert safari or shopping in Dubai, experience a camel ride, visit attractions such as the Burj Khalifa or take up sports including parachuting, mountaineering, dune bashing or scuba diving.

UAE universities

The UAE's higher education system takes influence from France, Canada, Germany, Russia, the UK and USA. The number of institutions is ever increasing but there are currently three state-funded universities and more than 50 private institutions.

The trio of public universities are:

  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) - the UAE's largest university.
  • UAE University (UAEU) - the country's flagship university offering many internationally accredited programmes.
  • Zayed University (ZU) - established in 1998 as a female-only institution but now open to males.

The most prestigious private universities include:

  • Abu Dhabi University (ADU)
  • American University in Dubai (AUD)
  • American University of Sharjah (AUS)
  • Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU)
  • University of Sharjah (UOS).

A growing number of international institutions also have universities or campuses in the UAE including those from Australia, Canada, the UK and USA.

There are six UAE institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2016/17, and a further seven in the QS University Rankings: Arab Region.

For a list of accredited universities see Arabian Campus - Universities.

The academic year runs from September to June with a winter break in December and a spring break in March.

Student exchanges

After 50 years of rapid growth the UAE is one of the planet's most cutting-edge locations so it’s hardly surprising that a number of UK universities have developed campuses in the country.

The University of Middlesex has a campus in Dubai, which provides a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as a number of short professional courses. Heriot-Watt University also offers a variety of Bachelors and Masters courses in Dubai.

You may be eligible for postgraduate exchange programmes with your university, so check with your tutor or institution's international office. The UAE institution you're interested in attending may also be able to help.

Those studying science, engineering or technology can embark on 12-week summer placements with IAESTE UK.

Degree courses in the UAE

Bachelors programmes at UAE institutions are available in a range of subjects and a can be studied both full and part time. Full-time courses typically take three to four years to complete.

Universities set their own admission requirements but to be accepted onto a course international students will usually need a high school leavers certificate or equivalent.

The majority of universities teach in English so if this is not your native language you'll also need to prove your proficiency through an IELTS or TOEFL test. Despite the fact that many universities teach in English you may also need to prove fluency in Arabic.

To search for undergraduate degrees see Arabian Campus - Bachelor degrees.

Masters degrees

Most Masters programmes in the UAE are structured in a similar way to those in other parts of the world. You must have a Bachelors degree to be accepted onto a course. Programmes are taught on a full-time basis and last for one or two years. However, some courses offer the opportunity for part-time, online or distance study, with these options lasting up to five years.

Popular subject areas include administration, architecture, business, dentistry, education, engineering, law, management, medicine and nursing. As in the UK, most Masters courses in the UAE will require you to complete a thesis.

The main language of instruction is English, although some institutions may ask for demonstrable knowledge of Arabic.

Other postgraduate qualifications available include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Executive MBA and PhD.

Search courses in the UAE at the Commission for Academic Accreditation.


Doctoral programmes typically last for four years, depending on your field of study. You must have a Masters degree to apply for these research-based programmes.

PhD's are commonly taken in biotechnology, economics, engineering, science and technology. Students must complete a dissertation.

For more information, check out Arabian Campus PhDs and Doctorates in UAE.

Course fees

Universities in the UAE set their own fees so costs vary depending on your course, level of study and location. All international students must pay tuition fees, which are often expensive.

The price of a Masters varies significantly. For example, MSc Electrical Engineering, one of the cheapest Masters courses at UAEU, costs around AED 48,000 (£10,600). In contrast, the same university's Master of International Trade Law costs AED 120,000 (£26,500).

All courses are assessed in semester credit hours. There are also additional costs to consider such as application fees, accommodation, study materials, food and travel.

Funding to study in the UAE

Tuition fees might be on the pricey side but there are a select number of funding options.

Government scholarships are often reserved for UAE nationals only, but some institutions in the country offer postgraduate study scholarships to foreign students. You might also be eligible for funding from a UK organisation, depending on what you study.

How to apply

Universities set their own application requirements. Applications for postgraduate study are usually completed online and submitted directly to your university of interest. All applications should be made by May/June prior to course start dates.

Universities ask for:

  • a completed application form
  • an application fee
  • your passport
  • certificates of educational achievement
  • references
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate (if applicable).

For more information on entry criteria, contact your chosen university's international student office.

Language requirements

The national language in the UAE is Arabic, although the majority of the population speak fluent English.

All three public universities expect you to be proficient in Arabic as well as English, while the majority of private institutions teach their programmes in English. If you're not a native speaker of one or both of these languages you'll need to provide proficiency test scores before being admitted onto a course.

Language requirements vary so check with your institution.

If you're taking an English-taught course but would like to learn a second language there are plenty of places upon arrival that offer Arabic lessons.

Student visas

To gain a student residence visa you will need to be sponsored by a resident of the country. Most universities will do this for you, but check with your institution's international office to make sure that they provide this service.

You'll need to apply for the visa online but bear in mind that sponsorship doesn't always guarantee acceptance.

Student visas are usually only granted for one year but are renewable for the duration of your course. Application costs up to AED 3,000 (£663), plus an additional AED 1,000 (£221) deposit.

You'll need to provide:

  • passport with at least six months validity and two blank visa pages
  • four passport copies
  • 12 passport sized photographs
  • three passport copies and an entry visa to the UAE upon arrival
  • evidence of acceptance to a UAE higher education institution
  • bank statements outlining evidence of funds
  • tenancy agreement (or a letter from your university if staying in halls)
  • copy of tuition fee receipt for the current study year of the programme
  • copy of visa fees receipt for the current study year of the programme
  • postgraduate students will need proof of a recognised undergraduate degree.

Upon arrival you'll also need to undergo a medical examination, which includes testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, leprosy and syphilis. If you test positive for any of these diseases, with the exception of syphilis, you'll be deported.

For more information on student visas see Arabian Campus - UAE study.

Comparison to UK qualifications

With higher education programmes in the UAE following a similar pattern to those in the UK, qualifications gained in the country should be recognised by UK employers.

However, it's always best to check before applying for a course so get in touch with your UAE institution's admissions or international office to confirm that your qualification will be recognised or has an equivalent in the UK.

Similarly always check with employers before applying for a job.

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