Education in Dubai has totally transformed in recent decades. With a strong emphasis on quality of education, the Emirate is becoming a regional leader.
Dubai has been improving its education sector by leaps and bounds in recent years. Increasingly, the Emirate’s education sector is reflecting the highly diversified population, with schooling options in Arab, American, Indian, British, and even more. Education will play an increasingly important role in the Emirate, as well as the region, as Dubai seeks to diversify its economy away from oil and develop a local population with the knowledge-based skillset to run the Emirate’s new economy.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is Dubai’s education regulator, overseeing public and private education, early childhood education, higher education, and training institutes.
With such a high number of expats living in Dubai, the Emirate has a high number of private international schools. While a majority are British, American, or Indian—British and Indian curriculums together make up nearly 65% of all private school enrollment—the country has schools with curricula from the Philippines, Germany, Iran, Japan, Russia, and a score of other countries. For the 2016-2017 academic year, the Emirate had close to 275,000 students of 187 different nationalities enrolled in its schools.
According to KHDA, the Emirate’s annual revenue from schooling fees tops AED5.35 billion. For private institutions, tuition varies wildly, ranging from AED1,725 all the way to AED107,200 per school year. Approximately 39% of private school students pay less than AED10,000 in tuition each year. KHDA has a four-tier ranking system for schools: outstanding, good, acceptable, and unsatisfactory. What was previously a minor correlation between tuition fees and rating of the school has strengthened in recent years following a KHDA ruling that allows schools ranked outstanding to put their fees at a higher percentage than lower ranked schools.
There is a strong emphasis on English language in schools in Dubai and throughout the UAE. While Arabic is also taught, it is sometimes as a second language. Primary and secondary education are free and compulsory from age five to 15. Many secondary schools in the Emirate require prospective students to take standardized tests for admittance; these include Advanced Placement, SAT, IGCSE, and CBSE, among others.
Private universities first opened in Dubai in the 1990s and now dominate the sector. A sizable, and growing, number of reputable foreign universities have opened accredited branches or full universities in Dubai. Many of these are located in the Dubai International Academic City or the Dubai Knowledge Village.
Dubai Knowledge Village allows foreign educational companies and institutions to operate with 100% foreign ownership. There are currently more than 400 institutions working in the village. The Dubai International Academic City hosts more than 12,000 students among 13 tertiary education institutions over a 12-million-sqm area. The academic city has brought in some of the world’s most reputable names, including Harvard Medical School. The Emirate is now working hard and transforming itself into a hub for academic research, with a high number of prestigious universities operating in close proximity.
Higher education has taken off so successfully in Dubai that students are now coming to the Emirate for their university degrees; around 10 years ago, the situation was the opposite, with the majority of local students going abroad for their degrees. TBY recently talked with Dr. Cedwyn Fernandes, the President of Middlesex University Dubai, who discussed the university’s success in attracting a highly diverse student body, with a higher percentage of foreign students.
“Approximately 30% of our students come from abroad with the specific intention of studying in Dubai,” Fernandes said. “We are the most diverse university in Dubai in the sense that nearly 19% of our students are from Africa. Dubai does not have a large African expat population, so many of these students come here with the sole intention of studying. We also attract more students from Central Asia, Pakistan, India, and the GCC. One of our plans to attract more students is to develop a strong English program that we hope will serve as a feeder into the university.”