This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 8/15/2016


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.
The U.A.E. government’s vision is to provide the highest level of modern education to its students in terms of curriculum, technology and environment through the creation of an education system that conforms to world-class standards.  To this end, the government allocated 21.2 percent of its 2016 federal budget for the education sector, and it has launched substantial initiatives to hire accredited teachers, strengthen the professional development of teachers, develop smart learning programs, and revamp education curricula. In addition, the U.A.E. Ministry of Education (MoE) developed Education 2020, an ambitious five-year plan designed to generate significant qualitative improvements in how teachers deliver curriculum and how students learn. 

U.A.E. Education System

The U.A.E. education system is divided into public schools, private schools and higher education.  The public schools follow the Arabic curriculum whereas the private schools follow 15 different curricula.  Schools following national curricula from the U.K., U.S., India, and the MoE cater to 90 percent of the private school student population.  Other curricular include: International Baccalaureate (IB), Canadian, French, German, Philippines, Pakistani, Iranian, and Japanese. 
MoE primary and secondary education is provided for all U.A.E. citizens and is mandatory up until the ninth grade. The existing educational structure, which was established in the early 1970s, is a four tier system covering 14 years of education as per the following:

  • Kindergarten – 4 to 5 years old (1-2 years program)

  • Primary – 6 to 12 years old (6 years program)

  • Preparatory – 12 to 15 years old (3 years program)

  • Secondary – 15 to 18 years old (3 years program)

In the 2015/2016 academic year, there were 518 private schools in the U.A.E., most of which were in Dubai (173) and Abu Dhabi (186).  There were approximately 238,632 students enrolled in Abu Dhabi private schools, and 265,299 in Dubai – an overall increase of 11 percent from the last academic year.



No. of Private Schools

No. of Students

Abu Dhabi



Al Ain & Western Region (Al Gharbia)






Sharjah & Northern Emirates












Abu Dhabi








Al Ain




Western Region




Sharjah & Northern Emirates




Key U.A.E. School Operators:

  • Choueifat

  • GEMS Education

  • Mosaica

  • Taleem

  • Innoventures

  • Al Dar Academies

  • Academia Management Solutions International.

Education Entities 

User-added image

     1) Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC):  Established in 2005, ADEC is the regulatory body that provides licensing and accreditation to private schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region, and sets the minimum standards for educational outcomes, health, safety, and building and site requirements.  ADEC works closely with the MoE in formulating the emirate’s education plan.

Since September 2008, all private schools are required by law to register with ADEC. Schools are inspected to ensure the provision of a first class education, and to identify strengths and weaknesses of schools’ performance.  The Private Schools and Quality Assurance (PSQA) Sector was established to implement ADEC’s strategic plan for the rapid improvement of the school system in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Private schools in Abu Dhabi cater to approximately 238,632 students of different nationalities including 51,925 Emirati students, who represent 24 percent of private school students.  Currently, there are 186 private schools, 256 public schools, and 18 higher education institutes operating in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western region.  Private schools in Abu Dhabi offer 14 different curricula.  In the 2014/15 school year, 88 percent of private school students were enrolled in schools offering the American, MoE, British, and Indian curricula (see Exhibits 1 and 2).

*Source: Abu Dhabi Education Council 2014-2015 Annual Report

Exhibit 1: Schools Distribution by Curricula in Abu Dhabi (2014/2015)


Exhibit 2: Students Distribution by Curricula in Abu Dhabi (2014/2015)


ADEC estimates it will require 100 new schools offering 140,000 student seats by 2020. According to the Education Journal Middle East in May 2016, at least 17 new private schools are due to open in Abu Dhabi over the next two academic years.  The new schools are expected to increase current Abu Dhabi schools capacity by 24,000 seats.  According to the executive director at ADEC’s Private Schools and Quality Assurance Sector, the U.A.E. private sector has invested more than $926 million to help build 56 schools accommodating 775,000 seats.(2)

     2) Knowledge and Human Development (KHDA):  Established in 2007, KHDA is responsible for inspecting all private schools in Dubai to ensure proper quality of education, from early learning to higher and continuing education.  Among KHDA activities are the publishing of education standards and reports, data collection and analysis, the provision of educational services permits, and the supervision of educational institutions on an ongoing basis.

In the 2015/2016 academic year, total number of private schools was 173 versus 169 schools in the 2014/2015 academic year.  GEMS Education operated 45 schools, Taaleem operated 11 schools, Innoventures operated four schools and nine nurseries, Kings Dubai operated three schools, and Fortes Education operated two schools and four nurseries.

Currently, the private school sector dominates the education landscape with 89 percent of Dubai’s students enrolled in private schools, out of which 58 percent is Emirati.  It is worth mentioning that the number of students in Dubai’s private schools has doubled over the past decade. Student enrolment at private schools has grown by 5.6 percent.  In 2015/2016 academic year, 265,299 students enrolled in private schools compared to 255,208 in 2014/2015.   This increase is due to the growing number of Emirati students who prefer private schools over public schools. Also, the needs and expectations of Dubai’s expatriate population continue to drive the growth of private schools.  Schools offering the IB curriculum have seen the biggest growth at 55 percent in enrolments followed by U.K. curriculum schools at 40 percent and Indian curriculum schools at 28 percent.  (See Exhibits 3 and 4 **.)

Exhibit 3: Schools Distribution by Curricula in Dubai (2015/2016)


Exhibit 4: Students Distribution by Curricula in Dubai (2015/2016)


**Source: KHDA 2015-2016 Annual Report

According to KHDA’s director general, between 15- 20 new schools are expected to open during the 2016/2017 academic year. (3) In February 2016, GEMS Education, one of the largest educational operators, announced the opening of seven new schools during the 2016/2017 academic year; two Indian curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi, three British curriculum schools, and two American curriculum schools in Dubai.

Students of 183 different nationalities attend schools in Dubai; the top five are from India, U.A.E., Pakistan, Egypt, and the U.K.
     3) The Ministry of Education (MoE): The MoE monitors the education system through secondary level at public schools in the Northern Emirates (Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain). The MoE develops and monitors reform activities focusing on standards and level of education.ADEC, KHDA and MoE are each tasked with education reform and the preservations of local traditions, principles and cultural identity.

Higher Education

Higher Education has changed dramatically over the past few decades in the U.A.E.  Until 1977, there was only one high education provider: the U.A.E. University (U.A.E.U.).  Today, there are more than 80 universities, colleges and higher institutes admitting over 110,000 students.   The U.A.E. has become an international hub for higher education, with leading global universities mainly from the U.S. and Europe including:  New York University (NYU), Paris-Sorbonne University, American University of Dubai (AUD), American University of Sharjah (AUS),  New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT Dubai), British University, Canadian University, Waterloo University, and Wollongong University among many others.  All private institutions are required to apply for licensure and accreditation from the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA).  However, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have developed “free zones.”

Higher education institutions can be divided into the following categories:

  1. Federal institutions funded by the U.A.E. government

  2. International universities that have international accreditation and quality assurance

  3. Local universities accredited by the CAA but without international accreditation or quality assurance

  4. Vocational and technical educational centers (not awarding degrees)

According to a study conducted by the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), the U.A.E. is seen as the fourth most attractive education destination for students seeking to pursue their studies abroad.  Established in 2007, as part of TECOM Investments, DIAC is the world’s only Free Zone dedicated to Higher Education, located on an 18 million square foot campus with state-of-the-art facilities.  Currently, DIAC has 21 of the U.A.E.’s 37 International Branch Campuses from 11 countries with a capacity for hosting nearly 20,000 students from 137 nationalities.  DIAC students also have access to over 400 higher education programs.
The U.A.E. Cabinet has recently adopted a range of new measures, such as developing subjects at secondary school level to match university requirements with career progression and incentives.

Sub-Sector Best Prospects

  • K-12 American Curriculum Schools

  • Leadership Programs

  • STEM and STEAM programs and summer camps

  • Teachers Professional Development Training Programs

  • Teachers Accreditation Programs

  • Programs for Special Needs

  • Vocational Training

  • Education Technology


The U.A.E. government has committed to significant funding 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.  Local investors/operators plan to establish medium-to-high tier American schools, and want assistance in receiving accreditation from American accreditation authorities, developing curricula for American schools, and recruiting skilled teachers.
One emerging segment that deserves attention is “Smart Learning.”  Public schools across the U.A.E. have begun to focus heavily on incorporating technology in classrooms and curriculum.  Leading this initiative is the “Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program (MBRSLP),” a new curriculum with greater emphasis on teaching technology and 21st-century skills that is currently applied at 208 schools, covering about 34,500 students and more than 5,000 teachers.  Teachers and principals are offered special training and professional development programs focused on teaching innovation in classrooms.  Among such training programs are:  One Note Class Notebook, Sway, Office Mix, and Office 365. (4) The gradual expansion of the smart learning program has enabled the U.A.E. to rank 9th in terms of providing internet access at its schools. (5)
Additionally, ADEC has recently partnered with Google to train more than 250,000 students on coding skills in public and private schools.  Created by Google, “Computer Science (CS) First” was piloted in 2016 at three public schools in Abu Dhabi.  It is expected that up to 100,000 Emirati students in public schools and 57,000 students in private schools will participate in the CS program. (6)
Another growth segment is educational and training programs for Special Needs students. Special education software and interactive educational toys are in high demand.  In addition, U.A.E. teachers require training on the different types of speech, language disorders and their causes, methods of diagnosis, and different techniques used to assist children with these disorders.

Trade Shows & Exhibitions:

The Digital Education Show Middle East
Date: November 14-17, 2016
Venue: The Conrad Hotel, Dubai
Official Website:
Organized by: Terrapinn Middle East FZ LLC 

NAJAH Education & Training Exhibition
Date: October 25-27, 2016
Venue: Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center (ADNEC)
Official Website:
Organized by: Informa Exhibitions
The International Education Show
Date: February 15-17, 2017
Venue: Expo Centre Sharjah
Official Website:
Organized by: Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Global Education and Skills Forum
Date: March 2017 (TBD)
Venue: Atlantis the Palm
Official Website:
Organized by: GEMS Education
Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS)
Date: March 14-16, 2017
Venue: Dubai World Trade Center
Official Website:
Organized by: F&E Education
Gulf Education and Training Exhibition (GETEX)
Date: April 13-15, 2017 (Dubai)   |   April 17-17, 2017 (Abu Dhabi)
Venue: Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre (Dubai)   |   Rotana Beach Hotel (Abu Dhabi)
Official Website:
Organized by: International Conferences & Exhibitions IC&E

Web Resources 


1) Arabian Business: GCC's class act threatened by teacher shortages Article(

2) Dubai’s Diversification Report – Education Journal Middle East / April 2016

3) Education Journal Middle East – April 2016

4) Education Journal Middle East – April 2016

5) The Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016

6) Education Journal Middle East – April 2016

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

United Arab Emirates Education Trade Development and Promotion