This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 4/17/2018


Education remains a top government priority in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) vis-à-vis the country’s sustainable development goals and, as such, this sector has experienced rapid expansion.  Over the next few years, the number of private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is projected to grow dramatically in anticipation of significantly increased enrolments – 400,000 students in Dubai by 2020, and 283,800 in Abu Dhabi by 2021; compared to 265,299 and 238,632 respectively in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 2016. 
The U.A.E. Vision 2021 focuses on the development of a first-rate education system. This will require a complete transformation of the current education system and teaching methods.  New initiatives are being launched at all educational levels. A key area of focus has been to transform K-12 programs, to ensure that U.A.E. students are fully prepared to attend universities around the world and compete in the global marketplace.    
The U.A.E. government committed 21.2 percent of its 2016 federal budget for the development of educational infrastructure, realizing the need to invest in educating its future generations to ensure growth and to maintain social stability.   Due to the transient nature of the expatriate population in the U.A.E., parents prefer to enroll their children in international schools.  Almost 58 percent of the U.A.E. nationals send their children to private rather than public schools.  Hence, demand for private education has been on the rise in the U.A.E., leading to strong overall growth in the education sector.   As indicated by several educational entities and private investors, the private education market will require an additional 52 educational facilities across multiple curricula, out of which 10 will be American schools.   Several local operators are in demand to introduce K-12 American schools, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 


Market Entry 

 It is essential that American institutions understand the regulatory framework in which the U.A.E. school will operate.  The education system in the U.A.E. is divided into public schools, private schools and higher education.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees all UAE-based education councils and authorities as per the following:
Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) – Formerly known as Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) - Established in 2005, ADEK was primarily responsible for the management and administration of the Emirate’s public schools and also acted as  the regulatory body that provides licensing and accreditation to private schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Emirates setting the minimum standards that must be met in terms of educational outcomes, health, safety, building and site requirements.  On September 14, 2017, ADEK- has been made a government department according to a decree issued by President Sheikh Khalifa. It is now named the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK).
The MoE and ADEK announced a plan to begin a process to achieve the standardization of their education systems to support a unified and highly-performing education sector across the UAE.  The plan will unify the education sector through the development of the Emirati School Model across all emirates.

Knowledge and Human Development (KHDA) in Dubai – Established in 2006, KHDA is responsible for inspecting all private schools in Dubai to ensure proper quality of education, from early learning to higher and continuing education.
One of the key challenges of establishing quality schools in the U.A.E. is the high funding requirement.  Typical cost of developing a school with a capacity between 1,800-2,000 students could range between US$50-$60 million, provided that the land is purchased upfront.  Foreign K-12 school entrants to the U.A.E. market - who are unable to make significant financial commitments - seek private investors to enter into licensing and operating agreements with investors under which the latter are entitled management fees.   Other options include operators forming and owning an operating company (OpCo) and the investor investing in land and property (PropCo), or creating joint venture (JV) with an investor.  However, each of these options has financial, operational, and legal considerations about which operators should seek professional advice before entry into any agreement.  
The United States continues to be the preferred destination of overseas study for 
Emirati students going to the U.S. on government scholarships, these students come from a public school background. Student’s mobility increased as a result of these government scholarships available to students at the graduate and undergraduate levels, both locally and overseas.   According to the Open Doors Report, there has been a 5.7 percent decline in the number of Emirati’s studying in the United States, 2,753 Emirati students in 2016-2017 compared to 2,920 in 2015–16.  Most of the Emirati students in the U.S. are on a government sponsored scholarship.  

Current Market Trends 

  •  U.A.E. education sector is growing and attracting billions of investment dollars.
  • Population is predominantly expatriates, constituting 91 percent in Dubai and 55 percent in Abu Dhabi.  Rapid pace of enrollment across K-12 and higher education institutions. 
  • Strong preference for international schools as they are perceived to provide better quality of education; the U.A.E. has a total of 518 international private schools, the largest number of private schools in the world. Rising demand versus flat supply of education facilities. 
  • Excellent ease of doing business.

The U.A.E. government launched in 2012 the Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program (MBRSLP), a new curriculum with greater emphasis on teaching technology and the 21st century skills.  By 2019, the program will be applied in all government schools across all grades. The MoE is currently implementing a new Design, Technology & Innovation Curriculum designed to promote Computational Thinking.  Part of the curriculum change is to implement Robotics labs in selected schools in 2017/2018, which will expand across all MoE schools in the coming years.   The technology-based learning solutions company Atlab has been working closely with MoE and ADEC for the last five years to implement robots as part of the school program.  The robots will focus on assisting students with classroom, social behavior and engagement. 

The launched Teachers and Educational Leadership Standards (TELS) and Licensing Project in August 2016 aimed to meet targets of the U.A.E. National agenda, aligned to U.A.E. vision 2021. 

  • The teacher’s license process in the U.A.E.  became mandatory for all teachers as of September 2017. 

A new policy framework aimed at promoting greater inclusion in Dubai’s private education sector was announced last November by KHDA. The framework applies to all education sectors across Dubai including early childhood services, special needs centers, as well as primary, secondary and higher education providers. It also empowers education providers, regulatory authorities and governing bodies in Dubai to closely monitor progress and compliance.

Current Demand  

K–12 U.S. curriculum schools  
STEAM and STEM training programs for teachers 
STEAM and STEM camps for students 
Programs to integrating STEM in Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 
Flipped classrooms 
Teachers Licensing and Accreditation Programs 
Digital and E-learning programs 

Trade Events 

Global Education Supplies and Solutions
February 27- March 1, 2018 – Dubai World Trade Center, Dubai 
Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) 
March 17-18, 2018 – Atlantis the Palm, Dubai 
EduTech Middle East 
November 2018 - Dubai 
NAJAH Education & Training Exhibition 
October 31- November 2, 2018 - ADNEC, Abu Dhabi  


Ministry of Education
Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) 
Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC)
World Bank Data 
U.S. Commercial Service UAE   


Capital: Abu Dhabi 
Population: 6,072,475 (July 2017 est.)
GDP (USD): $691.9 billion (2017 est.)
Currency: AE Dirham (AED) 
Languages: Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu  

US Mission Contacts 

Ashok Ghosh 
Commercial Specialist 
+971 4 309 4935 
Maya Najm
Commercial Specialist
+971 2 414 2518
[1] The National Newspaper – September 14, 2017


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United Arab Emirates Education Trade Development and Promotion