Education in the UAE

In recent years, the education sector has become a central focus for the UAE; its reform and improvement represents a necessity in the country’s ongoing development aims. However, there are major challenges for policymakers if they are to succeed in economic diversification and reduced reliance on foreign labor.

Educational attainment levels have made significant leaps and bounds since the country’s inception. In 1975, adult and youth literacy rates in the adult were approximately 54% and 63%. These rates grew to 71% and 82% respectively in 1985, representing increases of 33% and 30%. By 2005, literacy rates had reached over 90% in the adult population and over 95% in the youth population.

In 2010, there were 1,190 schools in the UAE. Although 61% of the schools in the country are public, 58% of the students in the country attend private schools. The UAE’s public school system boasts one of the best student teacher ratios in the world at 15:1.

The late President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, stated, “The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people.” The UAE’s current leadership has embraced this wisdom.

The government has allocated more than a third of its budget to education, which is a very clear indication that the UAE government is determined to invest in its human capital.

H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, UAE

Spending & Administration

In 2010, the UAE’s federal budget stood at $11.9bn, of which $2.67bn was allocated to education, representing 22.5% of the total budget. In the 2011 budget, the allocation for education and social development was doubled and accounts for 46% of the 2011 budget, thus clearly demonstrating that education is one of the UAE’s main strategic priorities.

A key component of the government’s strategy has been the decentralization of educational authority from the federal Ministry of Education to the local education bodies in each emirate. Three major bodies, the Ministry of Education, which has full jurisdiction over the northern emirates; the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC); and Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), are working to improve the sector.

Education Reform

Education reform in the UAE focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. Additionally, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science.

Providing education is one thing and having quality education is completely different. Unless you have quality education, you are wasting your time and your resources. We know that and we are trying our best to continuously upgrade, compare, and raise the standard of our education.

H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, UAE

Higher Education Hub

The nation is poised to become a regional hub for higher education. Several emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah, have declared intent to become educational hubs. Federal universities are expanding to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

Foreign universities are flocking to the UAE to set up offices and satellite campuses and the government has embarked on several partnerships that have brought top global universities to the UAE to establish full-fledged campuses. Whereas some sectors of the economy have faced the turmoil caused by the international economic downturn, education has continued to show strong signs of growth.

Economic growth is doing very well in the UAE. Definitely, it (the global economic situation) has not had a negative impact on higher educational institutions in the UAE.

Sulaiman Al Jassim, Vice President, Zayed University


One of key components to world-class tertiary education is research, which has historically been lacking in the region. The UAE is attempting to develop its research capacity and research initiatives are central to the UAE’s educational agenda. However, there are challenges associated with developing a research capacity in the country.

Established global research centers require funding, human capital, infrastructure, and a legacy of research, all of which are current priorities for the leadership of the UAE. Like in many other sectors, the UAE is trying to shorten the amount of time required to develop its research capacity by involving the private sector.

The one who usually takes the lead in investment is the government, but it must allow the private sector, private universities, do the research. That is why we established the National Research Foundation, which the government has allocated the budget and funds for. That will call for proposals from different sectors and especially from the private sector academic institutions. I believe they are more suited to carry out research than government institutions.

H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, UAE