The UAE Continues to Strengthen its Position as a Higher Education Hub


In a short span of time, the UAE has elevated its position globally. This is not only owed to the rapid advancements in its infrastructure, but also to the groundwork that been laid to promote trade and tourism. Beyond these areas, the educational sector has witnessed a significant transformation mainly due to the internationalization of higher education along with institutions evolving to meet the needs of the future. 


Migration for education is not a new phenomenon, especially with the world becoming more integrated. Students are often driven to overseas locations to study as a result of limited education options in their home country and the fact that employers place greater value on international qualifications. Higher education is also perceived as an investment into the future with international study as a platform to gain international experience.


With over 200 nationalities currently residing in the UAE, the country is developing into a destination that attracts highly talented individuals from around the world. The government has implemented several regulations that empower both students and professionals, making it easier to stay within the country. This has been conducted through revised visa regulations such as part-time work visas as well as the five-year visa for students and the ten-year visa for “exceptional” graduates. Additionally, safety has contributed to the allure of the nation with the UAE being ranked as the 2nd safest country in the world in the World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 along with Abu Dhabi being ranked as the safest city in the world. 


Dubai, in particular, is aggressively pursuing growth of its own education capacity. The local higher education landscape offers four main levels of study, namely, foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees. In 2018/2019 Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) experienced a surge in student numbers with a total of 27,500 students registered for the new academic year across all levels of study.


Dubai is also expanding its footprint locally, as well as through the introduction of International Branch Campuses (IBC) in “free zones”. These campuses are operated by foreign institutions from countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, United States, Canada and India. More so, these leading institutions offer the same degrees as their home campuses, with lower tuition rates and living expenses.


Transnational Student Trends

Transnational students are a major part of the international student population, especially at DIAC campuses. According to the “Transnational Student Mobility and University Trends in 2018” report conducted by DIAC and BMI Media, a greater number of transnational students are enrolling in IBC’s located in emerging markets, as opposed to the 5-25 per cent range located in public universities in traditional western countries. These numbers indicate how emerging higher education hubs such as the UAE are becoming more attractive education destinations due to recent negative political conditions that affect student enrolments in countries such as the United States and United Kingdom. Furthermore, a large number of transnational students hail from emerging markets, indicating that emerging regions are the major target market to travel internationally for higher education. 


The most popular fields of study for transnational students at DIAC campuses include business, with over 50 per cent of students enrolled in business-related degrees. Other common degrees include engineering, media & design, ICT and architecture & construction. Looking ahead, these sectors are a key contributor to diversifying and strengthening the domestic economy.

A Focus on the East

The DIAC-BMI study also revealed that the main source of transnational students for higher education come from emerging markets – India and China are the leading countries in this respect, followed by Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 

The relationship between the UAE and India was established decades ago based on age-old cultural, political and commercial factors. The UAE’s strategic location makes it a popular destination for [Indian] tourists and students alike and an increasing number of Indian students are looking to pursue their tertiary education abroad. The UAE offers a prime destination for these students due to the proximity of the two countries and the quality of education offered. In fact, India is seen as the fastest growing market over the next two years is a major target market for local universities. 


Just like India, China is a major target market for local universities. With a growing number of Chinese tourists coming to Dubai in addition to increased investments and job opportunities, Dubai’s attractiveness as an education and training hub for professionals from China has been heightened. It has become increasingly important to nurture qualified talent coming from China and to supply targeted vocational training courses to Chinese students in order to prepare them for life after graduation. 
Looking into the Future 


As technology progresses, many industries have been forced to adapt to the new and changing landscape. Many experts believe that we are already in the beginning stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality and robotics are changing the way we live, work and educate. 
As educators, there is a need to consider how to stay abreast with trends in order to ensure that the youth are prepared for the future economy. Whilst technological advancements are assisting workflow and increasing productivity, there is a growing concern over the jobs that will be lost due to these advancements. Graduates, however, if equipped with the right skills will have access to multiple opportunities. 


One of the ways to ensure this is through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. DIAC universities have increased the number of their STEM degrees, with a total of 142 degrees offered within this field. The increase in demand for STEM programmes is in line with global trends where employment in STEM occupations grew at a much faster rate than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade.

Technical and vocational training are also vital aspects of meeting the growing demands of strategically important business sectors in the country, offering a fast and effective solution to develop talent within the UAE.


In the past 30 years, Dubai’s has diversified itself into a knowledge-driven economy and the number of higher education institutions has increased significantly. The city continues to strengthen its position as an educational hub, providing a safe environment and access to quality education for local and international students.



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