Demographic trends bolster private education in Abu Dhabi


Billions of dirhams are being spent each year on education in Abu Dhabi by the emirate’s leaders, investors and families, with the aim of equipping new generations with the skills necessary to lead the transformation of the public and private sectors, and drive the development of a knowledge-based economy. Standards in schools and universities are closely monitored to ensure a quality learning environment for young citizens and residents, and efforts have been made to attract wellknown international institutions in the tertiary and private school segments to open campuses in Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi authorities have also focused on improving public schools, colleges and universities. In the 2017/18 academic year the Emirati School Model was introduced to align standards in Abu Dhabi with the UAE’s federal system in order to underpin national education plans and improve efficiency. In the same academic year 896 new teachers, including 302 Emirati educators, were appointed in the emirate’s public schools. Abu Dhabi is also conducting research in pedagogy and professional practice, and has launched new doctoral programmes in educational leadership, educational technology and educational neuroscience.

Long-Term Strategy

Education is a key building block of Abu Dhabi’s long-term development strategy. Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, which is structured around seven pillars, has two strategic aims related to education – namely, improving labour market efficiency and developing a highly skilled, highly productive workforce. The achievement of these aims would support diversification efforts and help guard against energy market fluctuations. Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 further identifies the development of a sustainable, knowledge-based economy served by premium education, health care and infrastructure as a key goal, and this is reinforced at the federal level by UAE Vision 2021.


The administration of Abu Dhabi’s education sector is the responsibility of several federal- and emirate-level government bodies. Within the emirate, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, is supported by the Executive Council, which is the key body responsible for developing laws, proposals and strategies for the emirate; and by a smaller Executive Committee, which was formed in 2006 as a decision-making body.

In September 2017, under a decree issued by Sheikh Khalifa, there was a reshuffle of the Executive Council’s membership and a key change made to education administration. Abu Dhabi’s education authority, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), which was formed in 2005, became a government department called the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK). The current chairperson of ADEK is Sara Awad Issa Musallam, who took over from Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi in January 2019. She is also a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. ADEK – together with another government agency, the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET) – is responsible for driving development of the emirate’s education and training sectors, and oversees its roster of schools, colleges and universities.

Federal Entities

In 1971 the Ministry of Education (MoE) was established to oversee all schools in the UAE, and guide education policy, regulation and strategy. In 1976 the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research was created to oversee development of the country’s tertiary education sector. In 2016 the two ministries merged into one new entity, retaining the title of MoE. Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, the minister of education for the UAE, is also a member of the UAE Cabinet and serves on the boards of key education institutions, including the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) and the Khalifa University (KU). The MoE is committed to ensuring that the performance of schools and universities across the country meet the aims of UAE Vision 2021.

Higher Education Bodies

The UAE’s tertiary education segment includes federal institutions such as the UAE University (UAEU), which was founded in 1976 and is the country’s oldest university; the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), which was created in 1988 and specialises in applied and technological education; and Zayed University, which was established in 1998. Citizens of the UAE are entitled to free education at public schools inside the country, and they can compete for government scholarships to cover the cost of studying at universities in foreign countries.

Quality and accreditation of UAE universities is the responsibility of the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). Established in 1999, the CAA licenses some 76 higher education institutions, both public and private, and accredits more than 940 academic programmes offered by those universities. In 2008 the National Authority for Scientific Research was created to support innovation and development, and was followed in 2010 by the National Qualifications Authority (NQA). The NQA helped develop a qualifications framework for the UAE, known as QFE mirates, and the Qualifications Framework for the Emirates Handbook, which gives detailed information about qualifications in the UAE and their equivalence to degrees awarded in other countries. The Vocational Education and Training Awards Council, an entity of NQA, has been given responsibility for quality assurance, and issuance of technical and vocational qualifications.

Public Schools

In the 2016/17 academic year there were 250 government schools and 191 private schools in Abu Dhabi, according to figures from the “2018 Statistical Yearbook”, published by Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi (SCAD). Some 35.4% of the student population was enrolled in public education, compared to 64.6% of students enrolled in the private system. Across all schools, there were 26,953 teachers and 12,145 administrative staff, and an average of 13.9 students per teacher and 22.4 students per classroom. Emirati students represented 44.3% of enrolled students.

Children usually begin school in kindergarten, which is voluntary and consists of two grades – KG1 and KG2 – and is open to children aged a minimum of three years and six months. After kindergarten, students must pass through 12 grades of schooling divided into three cycles. Cycle 3, which encompasses grades 10-12, is also referred to as secondary school.

In 2016/17 gross enrolment ratios in the first, second and third cycles were 98.8, 92.9 and 75.4, respectively. The progression ratio to secondary school was 95.4% for boys and 96.7% for girls. Of the 250 government schools, 72 offered multi-stage education, while 53 were kindergartens, 59 were Cycle 1 schools, 40 were Cycle 2 schools and 26 were secondary schools. All 191 private schools offered multi-stage education.

As part of a broader drive to improve the quality of education in the public school system, the UAE began a new mandatory teaching licence scheme in March 2018. The initiative, which had required the assessment of over 5000 public school teachers by the end of 2018, marks the first phase in a major overhaul of the sector. The new licences and their updated standards are expected to become mandatory nationwide by 2021.

Private Sector Growth

Private sector schools in Abu Dhabi are overseen by Private Schools and Quality Assurance (PSQA), an ADEK directorate. PSQA regulates, monitors, licenses and inspects private schools. According to its latest annual report, for the 2016/17 academic year, the number of students attending private schools has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% since 2011/12, and 65 new private schools have opened, providing 105,000 new places and representing Dh5bn ($1.4bn) in investment.

In 2016/17, 10 new private schools opened, offering an additional 22,500 school places, while expansions at existing private schools in that year added another 3300 seats. In total, Abu Dhabi’s 191 private schools educated approximately 241,000 students, almost 65% of the total school population, and employed 14,570 teachers. The majority of private schools – 122 in 2016/17 – are located in the Abu Dhabi region, and the remainder are in the Al Ain and Al Dhafra regions.

Curriculum Choices

The private sector offered families 14 different education systems in 2016/17, with the most popular being US, followed by UK, MoE and then Indian curricula, according to PSQA. There were 51 US schools in Abu Dhabi that year, which were attended by 26% of the private student population; 42 UK schools, attended by 22% of students; 47 MoE syllabus schools, with 21%; and 27 Indian schools, with 18%.

While expatriates account for the bulk of students, at 75%, enrolment of Emiratis expanded by a CAGR of 6% in the six years to 2016/17, compared to 5% for expatriates, suggesting local families are increasingly opting for private education. By 2016/17 the number of Emirati students in private schools stood at 60,961, a 33% increase on 2011/12. This made them the third-largest group by ethnicity, accounting for 25% of pupils. Arab students comprised 36%; Asians accounted for 29%; and Western students totalled 8%.

Changing Demographics

The changing make-up of students is linked to austerity measures at many state-owned enterprises in 2016 and 2017, which resulted in staff reductions of primarily expatriate workers. According to mandatory health insurance data from the Department of Health (DoH) for 2015 and 2016, the number of young expatriates aged 0-19 in Abu Dhabi fell by 18,841. This had a negative impact on private enrolment numbers in September 2017, both at the school and university level. “When cuts are made, expatriates are often the first to lose their jobs. That creates uncertainty and has led to a change in demographics at our schools,” Nilay Ozral, former CEO of Aldar Academies, told OBG. “In the past, 70% of our pupils were from expatriate families and 30% were Emirati, but now that mix has changed so that foreign students constitute 60% of our pupils, while the proportion of Emiratis has increased to 40%.”

The University of Strathclyde Business School UAE has been offering a part-time MBA degree in Abu Dhabi and Dubai since 1995, and recruits in Abu Dhabi twiceyearly, in October and April. The university saw a dramatic fall in its 2017 intake. “Our numbers are down substantially, and this is the longest, most sustained dip in recruitment we have experienced during our time here,” Ron Bradfield, director of the University of Strathclyde Business School UAE, told OBG. “Expatriates are leaving the country, and we are finding that while there is no shortage of people keen on the MBA course, they are fearful of losing their jobs and are therefore reluctant to commit to two years.”

While economic circumstances may result in fluctuations in the expatriate education market, this is counterbalanced to some extent by changing demographic patterns among the Emirati population. According to DoH figures, the number of Emiratis aged 0-19 living in Abu Dhabi increased by 13,222 in 2016. The net result, when expatriate departures and growth in citizen numbers are balanced out, was a reduction in the number of Abu Dhabi residents aged 0-19 of 5591. This population decline is unprecedented in the emirate. From mid-2010 to mid-2016 the CAGR of the population as a whole was 5.6%, according to SCAD.

Another factor that has affected the cost of schooling is the introduction in January 2018 of a 5% value-added tax (VAT) in the UAE. In Abu Dhabi, private schools were not required to add VAT to schooling fees, but the tax was applied to charges for extracurricular activities, such as school outings, and equipment bought by parents and schools. VAT was, however, added to tuition fees at private universities, though fees at public institutions were exempt.

Year by Year

Although there may be some changes taking place in the demographic balance in Abu Dhabi’s independent schools, the snapshot provided by PSQA for 2016/17 shows private school education is much more popular for children in the lower years of school. The distribution by age of the 241,000 children attending fee-paying schools showed 18.6% in kindergarten, 43.5% in Cycle 1, 25.2% in Cycle 2 and 12.7% in Cycle 3. Including all age groups, Emiratis accounted for 25% of those attending private schools across all three regions, but as children progressed through school, there were proportionally fewer nationals in private school classrooms, with 29% of pupils in KG1 moderating to 21% in grades 9-11, and 22% in grade 12.

A number of factors shape this tapering in demand for private education. Wealthier expatriate families may choose to send their children to their home countries for secondary school as they prepare for university, while Emirati children have more options as they progress through the system, such as the opportunity to enrol in technical and vocational schools.

The fee structure in private schools also means costs increase as children age. At Repton School Abu Dhabi, for instance, which teaches a UK curriculum, published annual fees for KG1 and KG2 are Dh55,000 ($15,000), and rise to Dh70,000 ($19,100) in Year 9, which is the equivalent of grade 8. By comparison, at Aldar Academies schools’ Pearl Academy, fees from KG1 to Year 6 are Dh41,700 ($11,400), and at its Al Bateen Academy increase to Dh61,100 ($16,600) in Year 9 and Dh66,900 ($18,200) in the final years of secondary school.

School Fees

Across all age groups, PSQA data shows that 78% of private pupils in Abu Dhabi are enrolled at a school with an average tuition fee of less than Dh30,000 ($8170) per year. It bands annual school fees as: very low, charging less than Dh10,000 ($2720); low (Dh10,000-19,999, $2720-5440); medium (Dh20, 000-29,999, $5440-8170); high (Dh30,000-49,999, $ 8170-13,600); and premium (above Dh50,000, $13,600). In 2016/17 a total of 78% of students were enrolled in very low- to mid-tier schools, while 15% attended high-band schools and 7% went to premium schools.

According to Ozral, Aldar Academies sees opportunities for growth in nursery education and mid-tier schools. In September 2018 the provider opened its first nursery, Al Forsan, offering the UK’s early years and foundation stage curriculum to children aged two to four. The nursery will provide an English-language environment, with Arabic as the second language and some French. The company’s strategy for the mid-tier bracket, meanwhile, assumes demand for seven or eight new schools in the medium term. Plans for its first academy, where fees will start at Dh25,000 ($6810), are well advanced, Ozral told OBG. She also said that while the company remains committed to upholding the same standards of education across all its institutions, its approach may be different at schools with lower fees. “For instance, a school trip to Europe to learn first-hand about art, culture or history may be replaced by an interactive discussion, or virtual experience, supported by online learning materials at school,” Ozral said.


School inspections are carried out by PSQA and ADEK under the Irtiqa’a programme. Every school in the emirate is assessed every two years and classified according to the following bands: outstanding, very good, good, acceptable, weak and very weak. In September 2017 ADEK revealed the results of its fourth round of visits, and announced that schools judged to be outstanding or very good would be visited on a four-year cycle in future. The results found four schools to be outstanding, 17 very good, 54 good and 74 acceptable. There were 35 schools judged to be weak and seven deemed very weak. In order to raise standards, ADEK announced that intake would be frozen for the 26 weakest schools in the 2017/18 academic year. ADEK has also reduced the warning time it gives schools to prepare for inspection visits to five working days.

New Openings

A number of new schools entered into operation in September 2017. Aspen Heights British School opened its doors to students from KG1 to Year 6 and plans to open Year 7 in 2019/20, adding one new year group per academic year. Other schools opening their doors in the 2017/18 academic year included Al Rabeeh Academy in Mohammed Bin Zayed City, operated by Learn Educational Investments, a subsidiary of investment conglomerate Royal Group, which also runs Al Rabeeh School; and Garden City British School and Al Takamul Private School, which opened in Al Ain, with the latter institution offering a US curriculum.

With higher demand for places in lower grades, new schools typically launch by offering primary school places first, and add more senior years as the school’s reputation grows. This was the strategy adopted by Evolvence Knowledge Investments when it partnered with a UK-based independent school to establish Repton School campuses in the UAE. Repton School Abu Dhabi opened its first campus on Al Reem Island in 2013. Then, in September 2017 it opened a second campus on Al Reem Island, for Years 3 and up. The two campuses will eventually serve 2300 pupils.

Future Growth

Abu Dhabi’s Private Schools Master Plan anticipates that enrolment at private institutions will continue to expand at a CAGR of 5% through to 2020/21, to reach a combined student body of 282,037. The anticipated growth in the segment and changing market conditions signals opportunities for long-term rewards for educational entrepreneurs, according to Kenneth David Vedra, director-general of Emirates National Schools, a private school run on a non-profit model and funded by the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, which was established in Abu Dhabi in 2002. “As some schools struggle financially as a result of lower enrolment, there has been a rise in scholarships, more flexibility in fees and some takeovers within the industry,” he told OBG. “The regulators are loosening up requirements for fee increases, creating opportunities for operators and increased private sector participation in the industry.” However, for investors entering the private education market for the first time, substantial upfront investment in land, construction and educational expertise is required and, as the Repton School example also demonstrates, the patience to grow schools incrementally over a number of years.

Aldar Academies, too, spent over a decade developing its business in the emirate. It opened its first school in 2007, and by 2017 owned and operated seven schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, employing 1000 staff and educating more than 7000 pupils. In May 2017 Aldar Academies signed a deal to operate four existing schools for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and overnight the company saw pupil and staff numbers double.

“In the last 10 years we have grown from a single school with 247 pupils to managing and operating 11 schools with more than 14,000 students, with these numbers set to rise in September 2018 to 13 schools and over 15,800 students,” Ozral told OBG. “Our schools outperform the UK average in examination results, and for parents living locally, we have developed an education brand built on trust. After a decade we can also reflect on the achievements of our alumni.”

As more residents move off the main island to new master-planned developments, education-focused investors and developers alike are drawing up plans to build schools to service the new communities. In February 2018 GEMS Education announced plans to develop a new mid-tier International Baccalaureate school on Al Reem Island, beginning with KG1 to Year 5, with plans to offer secondary education in subsequent years.

Abu Dhabi developer Manazel Real Estate has also unveiled plans to develop a number of school projects. In November 2017 the company said it would build four new schools with a total capacity of 5000 places to service its new residential developments. The first two projects – a kindergarten and primary school with 2000 places, and a senior school for 1000 intermediate and secondary students – will be located at the Al Reef Villas development near Al Raha beach, while the third – a kindergarten for 1000 – will be built as part of its Al Reef 2 development in Al Samha. The fourth project, – another kindergarten and primary level school with 1200 places – will be built at Ghantoot Hotel and Resort.

International Benchmarks

Investors considering the education market in Abu Dhabi must be able to demonstrate they have the capital to invest in new school sites released by ADEK and assure the regulator that the institutions they open will meet stringent education standards. Efforts to improve performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are increasingly the focus for education sector authorities in Abu Dhabi and at the federal level. This is in accordance with the UAE’s goal of being in the top-15 countries in the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test and among the top 20 on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Students aged 15 will sit the PISA exams in 2018, while pupils in grades 4 and 8 will take TIMSS tests in 2019.

At the 2017-18 Private Schools Annual Forum in September 2017, Hamad Al Dhaheri, executive director of PSQA, stressed the importance of preparing students for assessments, and encouraged schools to offer extra instruction to some students in Arabic, English, maths and science. “Private schools in the emirate of Abu Dhabi have been performing well on assessments, but there are some schools that require further improvement. We continue to aspire to great results on national and international assessments, with a focus on maintaining national identity and moral education across schools,” Al Dhaheri added.

Vocational Education

The increasing emphasis on STEM subjects is a central feature of the institutions that are administered by ACTVET. ACTVET oversees two institutions with multiple sites across the UAE. The first is the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), which delivers career-based technical education in English at both the secondary and tertiary level at 14 Applied Technology High Schools (ATHS) in the UAE, with separate schools for boys and girls in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Zayed City in the western part of the emirate.

The second is the ADVETI, which runs secondary technical schools (STS) across the UAE, offering separate facilities for boys and girls in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Zayed City and Delma Island. ATHS places are open to Emiratis or GCC nationals in grades 9 and 10, subject to successful completion of the previous year in school, and to the results of an entrance test and interview. Emirati pupils who have successfully completed grade 9 can apply to STS for grades 10, 11 and 12.

Although both technical school systems emphasise the practical application of skills and knowledge to problem solving, they are just as highly regarded as schools offering a more traditional academic approach to the curriculum. According to ACTVET, its students perform particularly well in the entrance exams for universities or polytechnics, with around 82% of ATHS students and 42% of STS students able to bypass the foundation year at university and start their chosen studies immediately in 2016. As a result, the performance of ATHS students in entrance tests for university was 11.7% above average in 2016, while the performance of STS students was 4% above average.

Promoting Skills

Abu Dhabi has recognised that it is important to inspire and motivate young people to pursue a technical and vocational approach to education. Emirates Skills operates under the ACTVET umbrella, organising events and annual competitions with cash prizes for young scientists, technicians and inventors. In October 2017 Abu Dhabi also hosted World Skills 2017, an international competition organised by, whose mission is to raise the profile of young skilled people worldwide and highlight their importance to economic development. At the event in Abu Dhabi, young people from 59 member countries competed in 51 different skills competitions. “We have worked for four years to host this important global event, and I can already see its legacy and the impact it has had on the industry, partners and sponsors,” Ali Mohammed Al Marzouqi, president of Emirates Skills, told OBG. “Not only was the event bigger than ever before in terms of the number of competitors, but also the amount of exposure we received nationally, regionally and globally was greater than expected. We received over 150,000 visitors who came to see the impact skills will have in shaping the future, alongside the newest technologies and latest equipment.”

Higher Education

In addition to administering STS and ATHS schools, IAT and ADVETI oversee technical tertiary education establishments. IAT administers branches of the Fatima College of Health Sciences in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ajman and Zayed City, as well as Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, which has branches in both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. ADVETI administers five institutes of science and technology: Al Jazeera in Abu Dhabi, Al Jaheli in Al Ain, Baynounah in Zayed City, Sharjah in Al Sharjah, and the Al Reef Institute of Logistics and Applied Technology in Abu Dhabi and Shahama. Courses are available to Emirati nationals or children with an Emirati mother once they have passed the high school certificate or its equivalent.

Technical Courses

Collectively, these tertiary technical institutions give Abu Dhabi students a wide range of vocational course choices, with opportunities to train in nursing, physiotherapy, pharmacy and emergency medicine, as well as IT, technical drawing, engineering, process automation, laboratory analytics, health and safety, accounting, aviation or engineering. Emirati students can also study for vocational qualifications at HCT. Founded by federal decree in 1988, the network of HCT includes colleges for men and women in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Zayed City. Students can study for a master’s, bachelor’s or applied diploma in subjects including business, computing, engineering, technology, education and health sciences.


According to SCAD, 8082 Abu Dhabi students graduated from university in 2015/16, with 5279 qualifying at state universities and institutions, and 2803 receiving degrees from private universities. Emirati citizens accounted for 60.5% of graduates, and of the 52,053 students enrolled in higher education, 38,049 were nationals. Higher participation rates have prompted the expansion of facilities. Between 2011 and 2016 the number of government universities in Abu Dhabi grew from 12 to 14, while the number of private universities in the emirate doubled from five to 10.

Abu Dhabi is home to UAEU, which had 13,810 registered students in 2018, half of whom live in residences on the Al Ain campus. Students come from 61 countries including the UAE. The university offers 52 bachelor’s programmes, 30 master’s programmes, a doctorate of medicine, a doctorate of pharmacy, PhD programmes and a doctorate of business administration. According to QS World University Rankings 2019, UAEU is ranked first in the UAE, fifth in the Arab world and 350th globally. Almost 65,000 students have graduated from the university since it was founded in 1976.

Zayed University, one of three federal institutions, has two main campuses: one in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai. The university, which had approximately 10,000 enrolled students in 2018/19, offers undergraduate degrees in business, communications and media, education, IT, art and design, international studies, environmental science, nutrition and psychology.

Graduates can then study for an executive MBA, a master’s of science in finance or cybersecurity, and choose between several master’s of arts degrees in communications, diplomacy and international studies, judicial studies, and education, with the option to specialise in either leadership and administration, special education, or teaching and learning.

Zayed University is licensed by the UAE’s CAA, and also by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, one of six regional accreditation bodies in the US. Its colleges of business, technological innovation, arts and creative enterprises, communications and media, and education have all been accredited by US-based programme accreditation boards or associations.

The university places a strong emphasis on employability for its students, and graduate surveys suggest 70% are in full-time employment within three years. However, the university acknowledges that as 20,000 young people graduate in the UAE each year, students have to be prepared to adapt to a changing job market.

“Historically, Zayed University has seen 10-15% of graduates go into the private sector, 30-40% to government-owned enterprises and the rest to government positions,” Reyadh Almehaideb, professor and vice-president at Zayed University, told OBG. “However, these dynamics are changing significantly and, as a result, we are highlighting employment in the private sector through career fairs and internship opportunities for students to increase their awareness of private sector opportunities, as well as emphasising through our curricula and extracurricular activities the professional and entrepreneurial skills needed to start their own businesses and become innovative entrepreneurs.”

One of the emirate’s newest universities is KU, which was formed in 2017 following the merger of three other Abu Dhabi higher education institutions: Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Petroleum Institute and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research. The university placed 32nd in the 2018 Times Higher Education Asia University rankings and offers 13 bachelor’s, 22 master’s and seven PhD programmes. It has 12 dedicated research centres, 50 laboratories and three demonstration facilities for solar energy, sustainable buildings and bioenergy. Furthermore, the new university launched the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Abu Dhabi’s first medical school in September 2018. “Ranking has never been about quality assurance but benchmarking institutions internationally among other institutions. To successfully assess quality, there are a number of specialised accreditations that look at capabilities depending on the discipline, whereas research output is a major contributor for improved rankings,” Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice-president of KU, told OBG.

UAE students receive free undergraduate tuition at UAEA, Zayed University and KU. Although there are branch campuses of international universities located in Abu Dhabi, new institutions entering the higher education market must first receive ADEK approval for proposed colleges and courses before applications are considered by the federal CAA.

The emirate hosts branches of the Paris-Sorbonne University, where tuition is in French, and New York University (NYU). NYU Abu Dhabi operates on the American Liberal Arts model for undergraduates and is a research-intensive institution. NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus has the capacity to accommodate 2200 undergraduate students and up to 800 graduate students, with over 1200 undergraduates studying there in 2018, according to Fatma Abdulla, senior vice-provost, strategy and planning, at NYU Abu Dhabi. Competition for places is intense, with an acceptance rate of between 3% and 4% based on applications, standardised test results, interviews and a candidate weekend.

“We review applicants holistically, and the candidate weekend allows students to experience NYU Abu Dhabi and enables us to assess if they would be a good fit for us, given our unique mission and goal of creating tomorrow’s leaders for a global world,” Abdulla told OBG.

Education Experts

As the range of choices expands for students, from kindergarten to university and the laboratory, Abu Dhabi is placing a greater emphasis on developing its own education experts. Emirates College for Advanced Education (ECAE) is undergoing a change in its strategic direction by phasing out its bachelor’s of education undergraduate courses while expanding its graduate offering, including three new PhD programmes offered free to Emiratis in educational neuroscience, educational leadership and educational technology.

“Part of our aim in having doctoral programmes is to increase the Emirati faculties in our universities, and completing these courses will qualify them for those positions,” Suha Al Hassan, acting dean of ECAE, told OBG. “We are also keen to produce research that is directed to the school system here in Abu Dhabi.”

The ECAE has also moved to increasingly focus on the upskilling of existing teachers, as a result of the rollout of the first phase of the UAE-wide mandatory teacher licensing scheme, which began in March 2018.


In recent years several new schools and universities have opened in Abu Dhabi, all with the capacity to grow student numbers and nurture national talent. Although much of the growth in education establishments has been achieved by attracting investment from the private sector, ADEK and ACTVET are also working in tandem to improve standards and enhance opportunities at state-run schools, colleges and universities.


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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2019

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