How is the higher education system structured in the UAE? How can an expatriate undergo education?

Article author
28 Mar 2024
28 Mar 2024
In this article

The universities in the UAE consistently rank among the world's top educational institutions. We have compiled an extensive guide detailing all the intricacies of education: how to apply, which documents are required, and a brief overview of proper conduct.

Description of higher education degrees

Bachelor's degree  

The initial stage of higher education, lasting for 4 years, while for engineering and medical specialties, the duration extends to 5 years. The curriculum encompasses both general education and specialized subjects, yet students have the option to add supplementary disciplines according to their preferences. Graduates in humanities receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, whereas those in technical fields earn a Bachelor of Science.

Master's degree  

The subsequent tier of education, involving a 1-2 year program. Throughout this period, students develop their own projects within their respective disciplines, and upon completion, master's graduates receive either a Postgraduate or Graduate Diploma.

Doctorate degree  

Students pursue the PhD program, culminating in the attainment of a doctoral degree. Over the course of 3-4 years, scholars attend lectures while dedicating the remaining time to research and dissertation writing. Occasionally, individuals already in the workforce opt for doctoral studies to elevate their level of expertise and achieve the status of a doctor in their field.


MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is a prestigious qualification obtained by graduates of business schools. During the course, students delve into economics, finance, marketing, accounting, management, and the art of negotiation. The program typically spans 1-2 years, and upon diploma defense, graduates can secure lucrative employment opportunities or establish their own business.

Description of Dubai universities  


United Arab Emirates University

The foremost and leading state university in the United Arab Emirates. Established in 1976, it is the oldest institution, catering to approximately 14,000 Arab and international students from 60 countries worldwide. UAEU boasts extensive laboratories and its own science and innovation park.

Location: Al Ain city.

Faculties: business and economics, engineering, food industry, agriculture, humanities and social sciences, information technology, law, medicine, and natural sciences.

Zayed University

Comprising two large modern campuses, students have access to a 1,000-seat theater for staging their own productions, a conference hall, 400 seminar rooms, a four-story library, and an amphitheater.

Locations: Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Faculties: finance, accounting, management, computer systems, artificial intelligence, communications and media, psychology, economics, politics, and sociology.

The Higher Colleges of Technology

Established in 1988, this state technological institute caters to approximately 23,000 students across 16 campuses, where students in technological fields can either study or socialize with friends. The library provides materials for thesis work, and on the sports fields, students can compete with teams from other universities.

Locations: Al Ain, Dubai, Fujairah, Madinat, Ras Al Khaimah, Ruwais, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi.

Faculties: media, IT, mathematics, physics, medicine and hygiene, business, and architectural engineering.


Abu Dhabi University

The largest private university founded in 2003 in Abu Dhabi. Today, the university is accredited by the UAE Commission for Academic Accreditation and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in the USA. With approximately 7,500 students, prospective students can choose from 50 undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral programs.

Locations: Al Ain, Al Dhafra, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.

Faculties: engineering, computer science and IT, business and management, medicine, journalism and media, arts, architecture, natural sciences, mathematics, and ecology.

American University Dubai

Established in 1995 as a branch of the American InterContinental University in Atlanta, today it is a fully independent university accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. AUD offers internships for students as part of its curriculum.

Location: Dubai.

Faculties: architecture, psychology, management, IT, design, biology, and engineering.

University of Wollongong in Dubai

The first international Australian university in the UAE. The campus features exhibition and conference halls, laboratories for chemistry, thermodynamics, and robotics, seminar rooms, and cafes.

Location: Dubai.

Faculties: business, IT, engineering, finance and accounting, arts and design, medicine, and media.

Residential Towers Creek Views II, Dubai

How is education structured?

Education in the UAE is exclusively face-to-face, with the academic year divided into 3 periods:

  • The first semester runs from August to December.
  • Holidays span from July to September. 
  • The second semester lasts from January to July.

You can enroll in university not only in August, institutions admit students before the start of each semester.

Universities are divided into two types:

  • National universities, where the language of instruction is Arabic or English. 
  • Private universities, which are international branches of American, British, Canadian, European, and Australian universities, with English as the language of instruction.

Curricula in different universities may vary significantly even within the same specialty. Universities adhere to different standards and educational systems, often depending on the country where the main branch is located.

Where do students live?  

In the UAE, there are special places where campuses of international and state universities are located. In Dubai, these are Knowledge Village and Academic City. There, students study in libraries, dine in cafes, and reside in dormitories.

If you don’t want to live in a dormitory, you can rent an apartment near the university.

Rules of conduct for students  

The United Arab Emirates is a place where traditions are respected, while students from all over the world are warmly welcomed. Life in this Eastern country is organized somewhat differently, but locals are understanding of cultural differences. The main thing is to respect their rules.

  • Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited in campuses, dormitories, and on the streets, so it's not worth taking risks. 
  • During Ramadan, it is not advisable to eat, drink, smoke, or revel on the streets and in public places. If you want to have fun or celebrate, do it at home or in restaurants that cater to tourists. 
  • Public displays of affection such as kissing, hugging, and holding hands are not appropriate. 
  • While women are not required to wear hijabs and abayas, provocative clothing will certainly attract disapproval: avoid short skirts, deep necklines, flashy jewelry, and revealing swimsuits on beaches.

Step-by-step guide to admission to universities in the UAE  

Requirements for applicants  

Not all universities in the UAE conduct their own exams and interviews for students. In most cases, it is sufficient to submit a package of documents. The university may request:

  1. English language proficiency certificate. TOEFL, IELTS will demonstrate your level of proficiency. High scores – starting from 5,5 in IELTS and 100 in TOEFL – increase the likelihood of acceptance. Graduates of English-language schools may not need to take such an exam. 
  2. Grade point average in the certificate. A critically important aspect in the competitive selection process. Each university sets its own minimum threshold. 
  3. Standardized test scores. UAE universities do not accept results of the SAT, so they consider the average grade point average in the certificate, English exam scores, and a motivational letter. Some British and American universities may request SAT or A-Level scores. 
  4. EmSat tests. To enroll in some universities, you need to provide EmSat test scores in core subjects. These can be taken throughout the year at certification centers across the UAE. 
  5. Motivational letter. An applicant entering a master's or doctoral program must write a motivational letter describing their professional achievements. It is also important to talk about future plans and explain why they are a good candidate for enrollment. 
  6. Recommendations. Universities request letters of recommendation when an applicant applies for a master's or doctoral program. The letter can be written by school teachers, leaders of volunteer programs, or former employers.
  7. Portfolio. Those who have chosen a creative specialty need to provide a portfolio of their work. Sometimes it can replace test scores in core subjects.

Collection of villas in the Ohana By The Sea project, Abu Dhabi

How to get a student visa?

It is not possible to independently apply for a student visa in the Emirates, this can only be done after enrollment in a university. The visa is issued for 1 year with the possibility of extension. To obtain it, you need to fill out a form on the university's website and attach the following documents:

  • a receipt for the visa fee;
  • a receipt for tuition payment; 
  • a copy of the passport;
  • a copy of the admission confirmation to the university; 
  • a copy of the existing visa in the UAE, if applicable.

Before submitting the documents, you need to pay a visa deposit, which averages $680. The amount is refunded at the end of the study.

Documents and submission deadlines  

UAE universities provide applicants with two periods in which they can submit documents: April-May, October-November.

To submit documents, simply visit the website of the chosen university. There is no unified list in the UAE, but there are mandatory requirements:

  • a completed form on the university's website;
  • a copy of the passport; 
  • a copy of the birth certificate; 
  • a 3x4 photo; 
  • if applying for a bachelor's degree, attach a notarized copy of the certificate and transcript;
  • for those applying for a master's degree, a notarized copy of the bachelor's degree and transcript is required; 
  • IELTS or TOEFL certificate; 
  • a motivational letter; 
  • recommendation letters if applying for a master's or doctoral program;
  • portfolio for creative specialties.

It is important that all documents are translated into English or Arabic and notarized.

Cost of education  

The cost of education in the UAE varies depending on the university, its location, and the chosen faculty. In Dubai, the cost of a bachelor's degree can start from $10,500, while master's programs may start from $14,500. Foreign students may receive scholarships, and sometimes discounts of up to 50% on master's programs.

Now, let us discuss additional expenses. It is advisable to budget approximately $1,500 per month for living expenses, food, and transportation, excluding rent. The average cost of utilities is around $165, while an internet and TV package may cost around $80. Mobile phone expenses are approximately $35, and a monthly public transport pass costs around $80.

The rent for 1-bedroom apartments in central Dubai averages $1,500 per month, while in outlying areas, it is approximately $900. Students can save by moving into university dormitories, where accommodation costs around $250 per month.

Is free education available?  

Foreigners can only study at universities on a fee-paying basis. However, every student can apply for a scholarship covering 5% to 30% of the program's cost.

What is diploma attestation and how to proceed?  

The process of diploma attestation is the confirmation that your diploma from another country is recognized in the Emirates. All foreigners who enroll in a university in the UAE must undergo this process. The procedure consists of the following steps:

  1. Make a copy of the diploma and have it notarized. 
  2. Translate the copy into Arabic and have the translator's signature notarized.
  3. Notarize the seal and signature of the notary public at the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. 
  4. Notarize the seal of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation and the signature of the official at the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. 
  5. Authenticate the signature of the official and the seal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE consulate – MOFAIC.

Brief overview of immigration to the UAE after graduation  

Many universities arrange internships for senior students in major international companies in the Emirates, and promising interns may be offered employment immediately after graduation.

After graduation, the student visa expires, so start looking for a job at least a year in advance. If you are offered a job, you will receive a work visa, the duration of which is limited only by the term of the employment contract. In this case, the employer covers all expenses for document processing.

Views from the balcony of the Riviera residential project, Dubai


Do UAE universities provide opportunities for internships in local companies?

Nearly all educational programs offer internships or practical training, allowing students to gain experience and hone their skills. Upon enrollment in a university, you can expect such an opportunity.

Will completing university help me find employment in the UAE?

Many universities have career counseling centers where you can learn how to craft an excellent resume and receive guidance on how to conduct yourself during interviews to ensure success.

Can I work while studying?

Students are permitted to work while studying, provided that employment does not exceed 6 hours per day.

Is it mandatory to provide a UAE school certificate to enroll in a university?

No, such a certificate is not required. Anyone who has submitted the required documents and passed the language exam can study at a UAE university.

How long does the enrollment process take?

After you have submitted your documents, the university must verify them and confirm their accuracy. Typically, the entire process takes about 6 weeks.


Enrolling in a UAE university is a serious matter. To ensure you don't miss anything and to fully enjoy the learning process, call us at +7 (495) 431-99-33. Our experts are well-versed in life in the UAE and are ready to assist you in finding real estate for living and relocating to one of the most developed countries in the world.