Study in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

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Studying in the UAE is a golden opportunity for many, as all seven of the country's states host top-class universities with ultra-modern facilities

Many of the UAE's rapidly developing cities are world-leading hotspots of culture, politics and science. The country's rich history and Islamic tradition remains clear, but 50 years of rapid growth makes the UAE one of the planet's most cutting-edge locations.

It's no coincidence that several UK universities, such as the University of Bolton, have developed UAE campuses. If you're looking for a thriving global hub that offers plenty of sun, sea, sand - and postgraduate study - then heading to the UAE could be just for you.

Masters degrees

You must have a Bachelors degree to study a Masters in the UAE. Most Masters programmes are taught on a full-time basis and last for one or two years. However, some courses offer opportunity for part-time, online or distance study, with these options lasting for up to five years. The academic year runs from September to June and is divided into fall, spring and summer semesters.

Popular subject areas include administration, architecture, business, dentistry, education, engineering, law, management, medicine and nursing. As in the UK, most Masters courses in the UAE will require you to complete a thesis. Other postgraduate qualifications available include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Executive MBA and PhD.

Search courses in the UAE at the Commission for Academic Accreditation.

Universities in the UAE

There are three state-funded universities and over 50 private institutions. The trio of public universities are:

  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) - the UAE's largest university has four campuses, 16 colleges, over 80 programmes and around 18,000 students;
  • UAE University (UAEU) - this institution ranks sixth in the QS University Rankings: Arab Region, offers many internationally accredited programmes and has over 14,000 students;
  • Zayed University (ZU) - this university, organised into five colleges, was established in 1998 as a female-only institution but is now open to males.

The most prestigious private universities include:

  • Abu Dhabi University (ADU) - this university focuses teaching around the specific needs of the UAE;
  • American University in Dubai (AUD) - this career-orientated institution was founded in 1995 and attracts students from over 100 countries;
  • American University of Sharjah (AUS) - this university offers 14 Masters programmes across four divisions;
  • Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU) - this institution is striving to become a world-leading research university;
  • University of Sharjah (UOS) - this modern university has 14 colleges and almost 1,000 postgraduate students.

Course fees

Studying in the UAE is often very expensive - and all international students have to pay tuition fees. For example, MSc Electrical Engineering, one of the cheapest Masters courses at UAEU, costs around AED 48,000 (£8,700). In contrast, the same university's Master of International Trade Law costs a pricey AED 120,000 (£21,800).

All UAE courses are assessed in semester credit hours, with price dependent on the particular programme. There are also additional costs payable on application and registration.

Funding to study in the UAE

Government scholarships in the UAE are often reserved for national school leavers, so you're most likely to secure funding from a UK organisation or, if applicable, your university. Some UAE universities offer postgraduate grants to internationals, so check before you apply.

You can read more funding advice at Scholarships-Links - Scholarships in UAE.

How to apply

Applications are usually completed online and made by June. Universities will generally ask for your: application form; application fee; passport; certificates of educational achievement; references; and, if applicable, International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate. Tuition fees are generally paid before each semester.

For more information on entry criteria, contact your chosen university's international student office.

Language requirements

All three public universities, plus many private institutions, teach in English. If English is not your native language, you may need a score of at least 6.0 on the IELTS.

Language requirements vary, so check with your institution. You're often expected to be fluent in Arabic, but there are plenty of places that offer lessons.

Student visas

A one-year student visa is compulsory and costs up to AED 3,000 (£550), plus an AED 1,000 (£180) deposit.

To be eligible, you must get sponsorship from a UAE institution - and even then getting a visa isn't guaranteed. Applications are made online, and the lengthy process involves a medical examination that includes testing for HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, leprosy and syphilis. If you test positive for either of the former two, you'll face deportation.

UAE exchanges and placements

Many UK universities have links to the UAE, such as the Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus. You may be eligible for postgraduate exchange programmes, so check with your tutor or university's international office. The UAE institution you're interested in attending may also be able to help.

Science, engineering and technology students can embark on 12-week summer placements with IAESTE UK.

Doctoral programmes

PhDs typically last for four years, depending on the field. You must have a Masters degree to apply for these research-based programmes.

Doctoral programmes are commonly taken in biotechnology, economics, engineering, science and technology. Students must complete a dissertation.

For more information, check out PhDs and Doctorates in UAE.