Traditionally an oil-rich country, in the past decade the UAE, in particular Dubai, began a transition to a knowledge-based economy. As a result, the UAE began to overhaul its education system, including higher education. The current higher education system includes undergraduate studies, master’s degrees and PhDs. The government has also made research at UAE universities a higher priority, and research programs are beginning to flourish. In addition to UAE public and private schools, many international universities have branches in the UAE.
In the past decade, the number of universities offering programs to international students has nearly doubled and about 1,000 foreign students now study in the UAE. The majority of international students are from the US, UK, France, Canada, Australia and India. Master’s degrees are available in a wide range of subjects, with the most popular programs being information technology (IT), business, management and marketing. The UAE recently made IT a top priority and as a result, IT education is blossoming at universities in the country. Many master’s programs are aimed at non-UAE professionals who work in the UAE and are taught in languages other than Arabic, primarily English. In addition, many programs offer both full and part time studies, evening classes and accelerated programs with year-round attendance.
The UAE has 116 institutions of higher education, including 3 public institutes and about 30 international branches of universities from all over the world such as the University of Exeter and Michigan State University. Most of the international universities are located in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Public universities are free at all educational levels to UAE citizens. Tuition varies widely at the international universities depending upon school and type of master’s program. Typical annual tuition runs from about 10,000 US dollars to about 24,000 British pounds. Most master’s degrees require 1-2 years to complete with full time attendance. Part-time programs can take up to 5 years; however, some accelerated part time programs can be completed in as little as one year.
The typical academic year includes two semesters, although some accelerated programs use a three- semester system with somewhat compressed schedules. Fall semester runs from September through December or January and spring semester runs from January or February through June.
There are many opportunities for both UAE citizens and ex-pats to work in the UAE after graduation. Major industries include trade, transportation and logistics; hospitality and tourism services; banking and financial services; retail and commercial expansion; education; law; media and health. UAE citizens with master's degrees are highly sought after by all private industries, as currently the vast majority of private industry employees are ex-pats.
Students who hold passports from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries do not require a visa. All other students must obtain a student visa which requires that they be sponsored by a university or educational institution recognized by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education. The application can be made via an electronic form and requires a photo of the student. In addition to visa fees, a deposit of AED 1000 (about $300 US) is required that is refunded when the student departs the UAE.
International students should obtain health insurance in their home country that will cover them while they are studying in the UAE.
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