Higher Education in UAE on an upward trajectory

Fiona McKenzie

Fiona McKenzie
Fiona McKenzie

DUBAI 16 January 2023: After the pandemic, 2023 is the first year which is expected to have little or no disruption to higher education, so naturally, there’s a degree of optimism when canvasing higher education faculty about what 2023 looks like.  The higher education mood is full of aspirations for a digital age and the drive to change the world of tomorrow.

Stemming from the last two years of activity – both on and off campuses around the world – there has been an acceleration in digital transformation and a willingness to incorporate new ways of learning and innovative technologies that can take educators and learners to a level beyond the pre zoom’ pandemic days. The UAE is no different.

The recent release of the Times Higher Education (THE) 2023 University rankings featured 11 universities from the UAE in the top 1,000. In the QS rankings, 10 universities from the Emirates ranked in the top 50 across the Arab region, with 3 UAE universities placed in the top 10, Khalifa University (fifth), United Arab Emirates University (joint seventh) and the University of Sharjah (ninth).

In total, the UAE has 11 universities featured in the rankings for the top 1,000.  This is an impressive feat for a country that founded its first university, the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), in 1976, but how have they achieved this in under four decades?

Higher Education landscape set on upward trajectory

A ‘Study UAE’ campaign has helped to showcase it as a top choice destination for students from overseas and the success of this is evident in how strongly the UAE performs metrics for international study.  Students are drawn to study in the UAE by many factors including the favourable weather! Top of the list is the high quality of education, the wide range of fields of study on offer and a big attraction is the wide use of English throughout the UAE.  From a financial perspective, the cost of studying for a degree in the UAE is often competitive with other destinations such as the UK or Europe. Additionally, the new introduction of a five-year visa for outstanding international students has also proved attractive.

Aligned with the school system in the UAE, there is an extensive range of choices featuring homegrown universities such as the United Arab Emirates University, the American University of Sharjah, and the American University of Dubai. The UAE is also a top host country for international branch campuses, including The University of Manchester, Heriot-Watt University, the Sorbonne, and New York University, all delivering tried and tested undergraduate degrees and postgraduate programmes to UAE students.

One consideration for 2023 is how the degree programmes on offer will continue to reflect the needs and growth agenda of the country.  There has always been a core focus on business-related degrees, however, a wider provision is increasingly being offered.  Birmingham University, one of the top Russell Group universities from the UK recently launched its new campus in DIAC with degree programmes including AI and Computer Science, Biomedical sciences, Engineering and Psychology.  Middlesex University, a long-term provider in the UAE higher education landscape, has expanded its original offer to include degrees in Health and Education, Media and Law, as well as Art and Design.

Abu Dhabi champion of attracting prestigious universities

Abu Dhabi has long been a champion of attracting prestigious universities from overseas to open in the capital with a branch campus of New York University  (NYU) offering the academic flexibility of a traditional Liberal Arts programme. The leading French university, the Sorbonne opened a campus in 2006, following the French system and offers degrees as varied as Applied Foreign Languages, Geography and Planning and Data Science.

A key global university ranking metric is academic reputation, which relates to the research work being undertaken and published by the academic faculty at the universities. This is acknowledged by the UAE government, which recognises that research is the foundation that underpins a productive and competitive knowledge-based economy and that universities are the hubs from where much of this knowledge is generated. It is therefore no surprise that there are 623 research projects underway at UAEU, looking into areas such as renewable energy and space.

For 2023 I believe that the UAE’s reputation for research will grow and alongside this so will its capacity to attract the highest calibre faculty and students from across the globe.  This, in turn, will thrust more UAE universities into the global rankings.

NOTE: The author, Fiona McKenzie, Head of Education at Carfax Education leads a team that expertly helps hundreds of students get into the top 50 UK and US universities.  Fiona works with a leading team of consultants who expertly navigate the education landscape, guiding families through the complexities and demystifying the process to help every child exceed their expectations and achieve their ambitions.  With over 30 years of experience in independent education as a teacher, governor and consultant, Fiona has helped hundreds of families access the very best education for their children, from nursery through to university, offering candid, impartial advice to ensure long-term success. 

You May Want To Read

Speed limit on part of Dubai-Hatta Road cut to 80kmh

Shurooq launches Sky Adventures paragliding centre

Emiratisation: Each non-hire costs Dh72,000

8-month girl is Mideast’s youngest heart transplant

UAE nabs head of major human smuggling network

60,000+ subscribe for unemployment insurance