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Guide to Education in Dubai & the UAE

In this comprehensive guide, we are covering Dubai's and the UAE's education system from Kindergarten to University.

K-12 Education

Dubai probably has the world’s most advanced, transparent, and at the same time freest K-12 education system in the world.

The UAE’s free government school system is limited to children with UAE citizenship and teaches the UAE’s Ministry of Education curriculum.

The majority of children who do not possess UAE citizenship have the choice to attend one of the hundreds of private schools or be home-schooled.

Dubai alone is home to a whopping 216 private schools, with more than 320,000 students in attendance as of 2023.

Many of these schools also have integrated kindergartens, allowing for a seamless K-12 student experience.

Now here is why Dubai has one of the freest if not the freest education system in the world. Aside from homeschooling which is fully legal, students (along with their parents or guardians) are free to choose which school they want to attend. There are no geographical restrictions such as school districts that limit your school choice.

The 216 private schools in Dubai teach 17 different curricula. Students and parents have the freedom to choose whether they want to learn according to the American, French, British, German, Chinese, Australian, or even Russian curricula, among others.

One of Dubai's many private schools - this one (Lycee Francais Jean Mermoz) teaches according to the French curriculum.

As an alternative to national curricula, there is the International Baccalaureate (IB), a curriculum developed by the Switzerland-based non-profit International Baccalaureate Organization.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) has a global outlook on subjects such as economics, geography, philosophy, the sciences and languages, thereby preparing students for international higher education and working environments. The IB program and its examinations are standardized all over the world, allowing for easy comparison between student performances and increased international recognition. Final grade twelve examination papers are anonymously graded by randomly selected IB schools in other countries for guaranteed objectivity.

As a result of this international standardization and anonymous grading process, the IB Diploma is far more widely accepted internationally than national curricula. In many cases, an IB Diploma allows students to be accepted to international universities without additional (language) testing or certification requirements.

As one of the world's most international cities, Dubai is home to numerous schools offering the IB program.

GEMS International School Al Khail (Dubai) teaching the IB Curriculum

One aspect to keep when sending your kids to Dubai schools is that all of them, no matter the curriculum, require Arabic language classes between grades 1 to 10. The only way around this mandatory requirement is to home-school your kids for the first ten grades.

Unlike the free government schools that are limited to UAE citizens, (private) international schools charge tuition. Foreign kids living in the UAE do not qualify for any type of free schooling. Homeschooling is the closest you may get to not paying for your kid's education.

Tuition costs vary widely. Better schools start at around AED40,000/year for lower grades and cost around AED80,000/year for the highest grades. Cheaper schools are available but usually come at the cost of reduced educational success for their students.

It is also important to note that many schools offer discounts for the second or third child you send there, as well as discounts for kids of school employees.

Most schools offer a wide variety of additional services, including pick up and drop off of students from/at home, lunch service, as well as local field and international trips. These are usually optional and cost extra.

Yes, schooling can get expensive, especially when you have multiple kids.

In Dubai and the UAE, you are responsible for the education and the resulting costs for your own children. This also means that if you don’t have children, you won’t have to subsidize other people’s kids through taxes.

If you have an average income of just USD60K per year and one kid, your annual tuition costs will still be less than the property, income, and other taxes you would have to pay in your (Western) home country.

Which other country offers such a high degree of freedom of choice?

I don’t know any, aside from maybe a few other GCC member states. GCC, in case you are wondering, stands for Gulf Cooperation Council and is a loose group of economically cooperating countries bordering the Arabian Gulf. Member states include the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

Now here comes the best part: Dubai also has the most transparent education system in the world. The government of Dubai, through its Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), regularly inspects and ranks all Dubai private schools. On their website, the Authority publishes tuition fees for all schools and grades, as well as school ratings based on school performance by subject, number of teachers, student-to-teacher ratios, student behavior, and student success after graduation.

Published on the government’s website is also a school finder that allows you to filter schools by tuition cost, curriculum, and other factors.

The Dubai government's school finder allows you to to screen schools based on multiple criteria such as tuition costs and curriculum.

Higher Education

It is no surprise that the United Arab Emirates does not have a long tradition of higher education given the country’s short history.

In fact, the oldest university in the country was only founded in 1976, 5 years after the establishment of the UAE. Based in Al Ain, the conservative inland city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) is also the country’s largest with a student body of more than 15,000.

Khalifa University in the capital city of Abu Dhabi is the country’s highest globally ranked university, regularly placing it in the top 200 universities globally according to QS World University Rankings. UAEU in Al Ain ranks second within the UAE, and 284th globally.

Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi specializes in advanced computing and engineering disciplines, including AI.

Among global universities under 50 years old, both rank in the top 30.

The student bodies are as diverse as the UAE's population mix and women make up 50%+ and in the case of Khalifa university 60% of all students.

While there are other local (state-owned) universities such as Sharjah university, a more recent trend has been the establishment of private universities, often in cooperation with global university brands.

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are working with leading international universities to establish local satellite campuses and bring in professors and staff from overseas. New York University (NYU) established a campus on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island and Sorbonne University of Paris opened a campus on Al Reem Island, also in Abu Dhabi.

Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi teaches a multitude of disciplines both in French and English

In Dubai, there are now university campuses of Birmingham University from the UK and the University of Wollongong from Australia.

Aside from these branded private universities which work closely together with their respective original institutions, the UAE also has 2 large privately run American and one Canadian University. These are not affiliated with any other universities, and emulate the teaching styles of colleges in the US and Canada respectively. The American University Sharjah is the largest of these, followed by the American University Dubai and the Canadian University Dubai.

The Canadian University Dubai is located in the upscale City Walk neighborhood

While tuition is always free for Emirati citizens at one of the state-run universities, non-citizen students have to pay. Perhaps surprisingly, both state-owned and private universities tend to cost roughly the same for non-UAE citizens at roughly 20,000 USD per year for undergraduate studies, with postgraduate studies costing close to 30,000 USD per year. However, keep in mind that these are just averages, and actual tuition fees vary greatly by subject. A good overview of UAE tuition fees can be found here.


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