This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 6/28/2018


As the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) government continues to invest in developing its knowledge-based economy, education is considered a key driver of the growth and, as such, this sector has experienced rapid expansion.  According to the latest figures, the U.A.E. has a total of 580 schools with a total enrolment of 584,932 students.  Private schools constitute approximately 60 percent of the country’s schools and provide education to about 500,000 students.  Over the next few years, the number of private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will continue 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. 

The MoE, in coordination with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical, Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET), and the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT),  announced  the Teacher and Educational Leadership Standards (TELS) and Licensing program to be implemented over five years for all teachers in the U.A.E.   The objective of the licensing system is to enhance quality of education and professional competence of teachers.   The standards set forth in the program align with the U.A.E. Vision to adopt international best practices for teaching and creating a first-rate education system in the country. Teachers will undergo professional development and assessments, which is designed to standardize their skills and practices across schools.   By 2021, all teachers, vice-principals, and principals at private and public schools will be subject to licensing.

A new school curriculum including a new subject of moral education to promote ethics, tolerance, respect, and national loyalty will be introduced in 2017/2018 academic year.  The objective of the new initiative is to promote ethics, community growth, culture, heritage, sustainability, rights and responsibilities among students.  A total of 19 private and public schools in the U.A.E. have been selected for the experimental phase launched in January 2017. 

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 17 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 curricula include:

International Baccalaureate (IB), Canadian, French, German, Philippines, Pakistani, Iranian, Japanese, and Russian. 

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)

Abu Dhabi and Dubai constitute more than 67% of U.A.E.’s population, out of which Emiratis represent 16% out of the total population.  Foreign expatriates represent 91% in Dubai compared to 55% in Abu Dhabi of the total population.

In the 2016/2017 academic year, there were 580 private schools in the U.A.E., most of which were in Dubai (185) and Abu Dhabi (122).  There were approximately 241,493 students enrolled in Abu Dhabi private schools, and 273,599 in Dubai – compared to 238,632 and 265,299 respectively in 2015/2016.

RegionNo. of Private SchoolsNo. of Students 
Abu Dhabi*122167,775 
Al Ain*5863,856 
Western Region (Al Gharbia)*119,862 
Sharjah & Northern Emirates***204N/A 
*ADEC  ** KHDA   *** MoE
Abu Dhabi118116122  
Al Ain585858  
Western Region121211  
Sharjah & Northern EmiratesN/A159204  
Over 175,000 additional seats are predicted to be required by 2020 in the UAE of which 90% are expected to be in the private sector.  K-12 enrollment is coming from the private sector in all Emirates, except for Fujairah, with Dubai leading the way.
Key U.A.E. School Operators
Al Dar Academies
Academia Management Solutions International
Fortes Education
GEMS Education

The regulation of private schools in the U.A.E. is governed by the Ministry of Education (MoE), a federal government authority except in Dubai, where the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is the regulator, and in Abu Dhabi where the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) is the regulator.  Both KHDA and ADEC are Emirate level government authorities and not federal. 

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.

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, Al Ain and the Western Region cater to approximately 241,493 students of different nationalities including 51,925 Emirati students, who represent 24 percent of private school students.  In 2016/2017, there are 191 private schools, compared to 186 in 2015/2016,   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 2015/2016 school year, 87 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 2015-2016 Annual Report

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.
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.  KHDA continues to work with government partners and private investors to create an education system that is of high quality introducing new initiatives among schools.

Among the new initiatives launched by KHDA is “The School of Hearts,” focusing on students’ happiness and well-being.  The objective of this initiative is to build a balance between academic achievement and development of character and well-being for students.  Schools will also be encouraged to host listening circles which will bring together parents, students, teachers, and school leaders to share ideas.

In the 2016/2017 academic year, the total number of private schools was 185 compared to 173 in the 2015/2016 academic year - an increase of 12 schools offering 17 curricula to students of 183 nationalities.  GEMS Education operated 46 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.  In 2016/2017 academic year, 273,599 students enrolled in private schools compared to 265,299 in 2015/2016.   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.  (See Exhibits 3 and 4 **)
**Source: KHDA 2015-2016 Annual Report

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.   Many acclaimed foreign higher education institutions are opening their branches in the free zones dedicated to education, which help these institutions to keep 100% foreign ownership.  Among leading global universities from the U.S. and Europe include:  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 also developed “free zones.” 

Higher education institutions can be divided into the following categories:
Federal institutions funded by the U.A.E. government
International universities that have international accreditation and quality assurance
Local universities accredited by the CAA but without international accreditation or quality assurance
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.

In January 2017, and as part of the overall development of the U.A.E.’s education system, the MoE developed and implemented a new exam called the EmSAT for Grade 12 students in government and private schools that offer the MoE curriculum.  The EmSAT replaces the CEPA as an accredited admissions test at public post-secondary schools in the U.A.E. The EmSAT will initially cover English, Arabic, mathematics and physics, the exam aims to measure students skills and competencies at public and private schools and to provide decision-makers with accurate information enabling them to improve the education system. 

Leading Sub-Sectors

K-12 American Curriculum Schools
Leadership Programs
STEM and STREAM Teachers Training programs
Teachers Professional Development Training Programs
Programs for Special Needs
Vocational Training
Education Technology


Private Education Facilities, Accreditation, & Skilled Teachers
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.  It is projected the private education market will require an additional 52 educational facilities across multiple curricula, out of which 10 will be American schools.  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 require assistance to obtain accreditation from American accreditation authorities, develop curricula for American schools, and recruit skilled teachers.

Incorporating Innovation and 21st Century Skills

Dubai officially launched its $270 million Future Accelerators Program designed to make the city an innovation hub.  The scheme pairs government departments with innovative companies to find solutions to challenges of the 21st century.   Eight accelerators working in collaboration with government departments will focus on education, health, infrastructure, transportation, security, energy and finance sectors.  So far, a total of 2,274 companies submitted applications from 73 countries and 30 companies have been selected to participate in the program.

KHDA is seeking to develop evaluation and self-education systems to promote 21st century skills, and that can be applied to all curricula to make education more flexible, affordable, and efficient.  Focus will be placed on Arabic, science and technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, programming, health, and happiness.

There are significant opportunities for players that offer new innovations vis-à-vis teaching methods, such as: MakerBot 3D printers, 3D scanners, STEM tools, Humanoid Robots, Robotics, Doodlers, e-books, and technology and innovation curriculum to promote computational thinking. 

Special Needs Learning

The U.A.E. strongly supports education for students with special needs. The government signed the optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and passed Federal Law 29/2006 guaranteeing rights for people with special needs.  Vocational and rehabilitation centers have been developed throughout the U.A.E., and efforts are made to include special needs students in mainstream educational settings.  For example, the government of Abu Dhabi has partnered with the New England Center for Children to support children with autism.  The U.A.E. also participates in the Special Olympics.

Trade Shows & Exhibitions
The Digital Education Show Middle East
Date:    November 14-15, 2017
Venue: Le Meridien Hotel & Conference Center - Dubai
Organized by: Terrapinn Middle East FZ LLC   
NAJAH Education & Training Exhibition
Date:    October 25-27, 2017
Venue: Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center (ADNEC)
Organized by: Informa Exhibitions

The International Education Show
Date:    February 2018 (TBD)
Venue: Expo Centre Sharjah
Organized by: Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Global Education and Skills Forum
Date:    March 17-18, 2018
Venue: Atlantis the Palm
Organized by: GEMS Education

Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS)
Date:    February 27 – March 1, 2018
Venue: Dubai World Trade Center
Organized by: F&E Education

Gulf Education and Training Exhibition (GETEX)
Date:    April 2018 (TBD)
Venue: Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre
Organized by: International Conferences & Exhibitions IC&E

Web Resources              

Abu Dhabi Education Council
Knowledge & Human Development Authority
Ministry of Education
U.A.E. Embassy in Washington DC
Indalytics Education Sector Research Report 2016

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United Arab Emirates Education Trade Development and Promotion