Five-year education strategy supported by high federal spending in the UAE


Although Abu Dhabi may have faced the twin headwinds of lower oil and gas prices and reduced international trade in recent years, funding for education has remained a key priority for the UAE’s federal government. In November 2018 the UAE Cabinet approved a balanced federal budget of Dh60.3bn ($16.4bn) for 2019. This represents a 17.3% increase over the previous year and is the largest in the UAE’s history.

The largest portion of the budget, at 42.3%, has been allotted to social development, while general education and higher education will receive 17%, equal to Dh10.2bn ($2.8bn). This is roughly in line with the budgets of the previous two years but significantly above the Dh6.5bn ($1.8bn) allocated to the sector in 2016.

In addition, Dh4m ($1.1m) out of the federal budget has been earmarked for the Ministry of Education (MoE) to supplement school projects. The government does not publish information on how finance is divided among the seven emirates, nor does Abu Dhabi’s educational authority, the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK), provide details of its own expenditure. However, there is evidence on continuing investment in education, both in government schools, and in collaboration with the private sector, to meet the objectives of the MoE’s 2017-21 strategic plan.

Objectives & Targets

The MoE’s five-year plan includes ensuring an inclusive quality education including preschool; achieving excellent leadership and efficiency; ensuring quality, efficiency and good governance; ensuring learning environments are safe, conducive and challenging; attracting students to higher education and preparing them to enter universities; strengthening the capacity for scientific research and innovation; providing high-quality, efficient and transparent administrative services; and establishing a culture of innovation. By 2021 the UAE is hoping to see its students ranked among the top-15 countries in the International Association for Evaluation of Education Achievements’ Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study test, and the top 20 in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment exams. It is also aiming for 90% of students to achieve high scores in Arabic. Among the MoE’s other targets is achieving a 98% upper-secondary graduation rate and 95% enrolment in pre-schools. It also plans to spend the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP on research and development, and see high-quality teachers and highly effective leadership in all of its schools.


In June 2017 the MoE and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), now known as ADEK, announced that the education system in Abu Dhabi would be united with the federal system in order to achieve “a quantum leap in the education sector” by harmonising teaching methods, mechanisms and systems of interaction with students. The aim was to optimise available resources and enhance efficiency by operating a unified national plan across all public schools, starting in the 2017/18 academic year and achieving full harmonisation in 2018/19.

Under the new system, which is called the Emirati School Model, Abu Dhabi schools would continue to teach science and mathematics in English, and English from kindergarten to grade 12. ADEC’s design, technology and innovation curricula and textbooks would be used in grades 1-3 and grade 12, and the MoE curriculum in the Arabic language, Islamic religion and social studies would be employed from kindergarten to grade 12. Books, e-books and other resources were made available in Abu Dhabi by the start of 2017/18, and teachers were trained to use educational resources on the MoE network. In September 2017 ADEC announced its schools were ready to implement the new joint plan.

“The unified national educational system has uplifted our expectations, especially as its curricula and activities enhance student social and behavioural skills and knowledge due to the rich and diverse learning experiences that we are keen to offer,” Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, then-director-general of ADEC, said at the time. “The Emirati School Model will play a vital role in shaping the future of our children by offering a high-quality national education programme that focuses on providing students with a unique bilingual learning experience.”

New Public Schools

In September 2017 six new public schools were opened in the emirate, representing a combined investment of Dh671m ($182.6m). The two schools opening in the Abu Dhabi region were Al Dana in Mohammed Bin Zayed City and Al Watan in Shakhbout City. The Dh109m ($29.7m) Al Dana school can accommodate 1740 kindergarten and Cycle 1 students, while Al Watan cost Dh115m ($31.3m) to build and equip, and has 62 classrooms and a 1490-student capacity. Four new schools also opened in Al Ain, representing an investment of Dh447.5m ($121.8m). Three of the schools – Al Yahar, Al Shuwaiba and Ain Al Faydah – each have the capacity for 1490 students, while Al Quwa school can hold 1240 students.

New Private Schools

In addition to building and operating public schools, ADEK works with the private sector by identifying plots of land for school buildings as well as stipulating the kind of curriculum required to serve a particular community. In November 2017 the department offered investors the opportunity to build and operate three new schools in Abu Dhabi City. The plans consist of two US curriculum schools with capacity for 2400 pupils, located in Al Maqtaa and Khalifa City; and a 2200-seat UK school in Khalifa City.

“Investments in private schools continue to boom, which is exactly why ADEK is adamant to provide prime location plots for qualified investors, offering them a great opportunity to maintain the high quality of education private schools are offering all students alike,” Tareq Al Ameri, the business development division manager of Private Schools and Quality Assurance, a directorate of ADEK that oversees private schools in the emirate, said at the time of the announcement. “We will continue to offer land plots to potential investors as part our plan to expand private schools in the emirate, while continuing to raise the quality of education for all our students equally,” he added.

Promoting Inclusivity

In keeping with its policy of ensuring an inclusive, quality education, in November 2017 ADEK announced that 40% of seats at Al Maqtaa school should be for “people of determination”, the official term used in the UAE for special-needs students. “I am especially intrigued by the proposal to offer up to 40% of school seats for students with above moderate special needs,” Mohammed Al Shamma, owner and managing director of International Community School in Abu Dhabi, said following the announcement. “This is truly remarkable. However, it requires a great deal of work. We must learn from national and international experiences, and see what some of the best international practices are with [p]eople of [d]etermination and implement them to the best of our capabilities.”

In December 2017 Abu Dhabi property and education developer Manazel Real Estate announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the May Institute in the US to explore the need for a school that caters to children on the autistic spectrum in the UAE. The May Institute is one of the largest providers of schools and services for children and adults with autism in the US.

There were 8382 students with special educational needs in Abu Dhabi government schools in 2016/17, according to Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi (SCAD). This included 4798 with learning disabilities, 310 visually impaired students, 338 with hearing disabilities, 926 with speech or language disorders, 478 who were physically disabled, 710 with health problems, 174 with emotional or behavioural issues, and 280 on the autism spectrum. A further 368 were identified as having an intellectual or other mental impairment, or disability.


Another of ADEK’s responsibilities is to ensure young Emiratis in Abu Dhabi have the optimal chance to study courses that serve the development of the economy. In January 2018 ADEK announced it had received 1016 applications from Emirati students for its scholarship programmes. The department interviews candidates who meet the criteria and makes offers subject to performance in final examination results at the end of the academic year.

ADEK’s Guidance and Scholarship Division administers the Talented Students Scholarships Programme and the Postgraduate Scholarship Programme (for non-employees). ADEK scholars are given money to help cover tuition fees, living costs, travel and accommodation to enable them to study, either at home or abroad, in programmes at universities ranked in the top 200 in the QS World University Rankings, the Shanghai Rankings or the top-100 universities identified in US media.

With a growing range of options to study at either state or private universities in Abu Dhabi, the number of young Emiratis receiving full funding to complete their university education abroad is declining, and ADEK is focusing much more closely on courses that will help to contribute to the economy. Indeed, a report published by the Institute of International Education noted the first decline in a decade in the number of UAE students studying in the US in the 2016/17 academic year.


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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2019

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