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Masters in the United Arab Emirates

by Charlotte Griffiths

Known for its year-round sunshine, the United Arab Emirates is a land where tradition meets modernity and the desert meets cosmopolitan meccas. This global hub in the Middle East has rapidly become a thriving hotspot for tourists, businesses and now Masters students too.

The UAE provides an ultra-modern learning and social experience, whilst maintaining traditional Arabic values and political stability.

We've put together a detailed advice guide on everything you need to know about post-graduate study in the UAE. Elsewhere on this site you can get started with your search for a UAE Masters degree.

Why study a Masters in the UAE?

The higher education system in the United Arab Emirates, while fairly young, has expanded dramatically in recent years. This focus on tertiary-education has been designed to accommodate the UAE’s knowledge-based economy, which is consistently among the world’s fastest growing.

With seven rapidly developing states, the UAE attracts a large international student community, with its bustling cities offering a competitive range of postgraduate degrees. The Dubai International Academic City, a purpose built tertiary-education zone, is alone home to 27 university campuses run by institutions from 11 different countries.

Studying a Masters in this global hub is guaranteed to leave you with an unforgettable and unique living experience of the old and new, with the added benefit of learning in an advanced and professional environment.

How popular is Masters study abroad in the UAE?

The UAE's largest cities are Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. They are home to several modern University campuses of both local and international origin and attract over 60,000 foreign students.

Universities in the UAE: an introduction for postgraduates

The UAE has based and developed its higher education system on examples from the UK, America, France, Germany, Canada and Russia to name just an influential few. The number of Universities in the UAE is ever expanding and while there are currently a small number of public institutions, they have already received international academic accreditation for high quality standards.

Public universities in the UAE

There are three public universities in the United Arab Emirates:

  • United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) – the UAE’s flagship university, first Research University in the state, 5th in THE World Rankings for the Arab World.
  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) – largest higher education institution in the UAE with 17 campuses across the country.
  • Zayed University (ZU) – a regional leader in the progress of scientific research and community service.

However, the majority of institutions in the UAE are private local universities and branches of international Universities. Most of these teach in English as a first language.

Private universities in the UAE

There are over 50 private universities in the UAE. Leading examples include:

  • American University in Dubai (AUD) – Has both US and UAE accreditation and represents around 100 nationalities in the student body.
  • American University of Sharjah (AUS) – offers a choice of 14 Masters programmes and is in the top 10% in international outlook in 2016.
  • Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU) – Science focused with plans to expand from 1,500 to 6,000 students.
  • University of Sharjah (UOS) – Aims to become leading academic institution in the Middle East and has over 1,000 post-graduate students.
  • Abu Dhabi University (ADU) – focuses teaching on the specific needs of the UAE.

UAE University rankings

The quality of higher education in the United Arab Emirates is reflected in global league tables. Six UAE institutions feature in the latest QS and THE rankings.

United Arab Emirates University Rankings
University QS World Ranking (2015-16) QS Arab Region Ranking (2015) THE World Ranking (2015-16) THE Arab Ranking (2015)
American University of Sharjah 411-420 7 601-800 8
United Arab Emirates University 421-430 6 501-600 5
Khalifa University 481-490 24 - -
American University in Dubai 551-600 19 - -
University of Sharjah 601-650 21 - -
Abu Dhabi University 27 701+ - -
Information in this table is based on the 2015-16 QS World University Rankings, QS Arab Region Ranking, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Times Higher Education Arab University Ranking. Visit their websites for more information.

International education in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates has the highest concentration of international branch campuses in the world with more than 40 across its five emirate states.

The scope for private universities in the UAE is truly international with campuses for institutions such as Middlesex University, New York University, Michigan State University, Paris-Sorbonne, the University of Wollongong and Hult International Business School.

Furthermore, the British University in Dubai (BUiD) is a postgraduate specific institution. It works in partnership with several leading UK universities such as Kings College London, Cardiff University, University of Aberdeen and University of Manchester.

Although there is choice across the seven Emirate states, most international Universities are based in the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah where the largest populations lie.

Owing to its highly international student community, Sharjah has been announced as a new entry in the QS Best Student Cities of 2016.

Dubai is also home to a high concentration of international universities and branch campuses. The following are the top five international universities in Dubai:

  • American University in Dubai (AUD)
  • British University in Dubai (BUiD)
  • American College of Dubai (ACD)
  • University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD)
  • Al Ghurair University (AGU)

Postgraduate exchange programmes in the United Arab Emirates

Some UK universities offer postgraduate exchange programmes to their students. Check with your university’s international office if you are interested in this alternative pathway to studying abroad in the UAE.

UAE Masters degrees programme types and course structure

Masters degrees in the UAE are organised in a similar way to those in other parts of the world.

Popular areas of postgraduate study in the UAE include Business Administration; Engineering; Architecture; Science; Food and Agriculture; Humanities and Social Sciences.MA, MSc and MBA courses are available in all of these subject areas.

Course length

A Masters in the UAE is normally one or two years for full time students. The academic year in the UAE runs from September to June, broken down typically into two semesters. These will run from September to December or January, followed by the second semester in January or February until June.

There are also opportunities for part-time Masters study which can last up to five years; however, some accelerated part time courses can be completed in as little as one year, although less common.

Masters courses are assessed in semester credit hours and normally include a thesis or dissertation.

Applying for a Masters in the UAE

Universities in the UAE normally set the following minimum requirements for Masters degree applications:

  • A cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale or equivalent, in all undergraduate work
  • A Bachelors degree or its equivalent from an accredited university recognised by the UAE MOHESR

The requirements for some Masters courses are higher, so you will need to check with your university before applying.

As postgraduate degrees in the UAE start in September, you will need to apply online by May or June. Your application will require proof of a valid passport and copy of the transcript of your undergraduate qualification.

Language requirements

Language requirements for postgraduate study in the UAE will depend on your course and university:

  • Public universities will expect students to be proficient in speaking their first language of Arabic, as well as English as a secondary medium.
  • Masters degrees at Private universities are mostly taught in English.

If English is not your first language and you wish to study a discipline delivered predominantly in English, you may need to submit a test score. UAE universities will normally accept either the IELTS (International Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) tests.

Score requirements will normally be as follows:

  • An IELTS score of 5.0 or better
  • A TOEFL score of 500 (paper based) or 60 (computer-based)

Want to know more about postgraduate language tests?

Academic language tests are a common part of applications for postgraduate study abroad, but they don't have to be confusing. Our guides to postgraduate language tests cover popular tests of English such as the TOEFL and IELTS.

Entrance exams and admissions tests

Some universities in the UAE may also require you to sit Entrance Exams for specialised Masters courses. Generally, these can only be sat once and not re-taken at any stage. The exams may vary in price from AED 150 – 400 (£30 – 80). The dates of the exams can also vary, so you will need to check with your University in advance.

Masters student visas in the UAE

You will normally need a visa to study abroad in the United Arab Emirates. This should be a UAE Student Residence Visa

All nationalities are eligible to apply for a UAE Student Residence visa, with the exception of Israeli citizens.

Students with a passport from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries do not require a student visa. This covers students from (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

Visa requirements

To gain a Student visa in the UAE you will first need a sponsor. This can be your University if they are eligible. Once you have found a sponsor, you can apply for a Student Residence visa for the duration of your course.

This visa will last for 12 months, but is issued one year at a time. You may need to renew your visa, depending on the duration of your degree.

Visa fees

The following fees apply to student visas in the United Arab Emirates:

  • Visa processing and issuing fee - AED 1,000-3,000 (£200-600)
  • Visa deposit (refundable) - AED 1,000-2,000 (£200-400)
  • Visa renewal (annual) - AED 1,000-3,000 (£200-600)

Visa applications

To assist your application for a student visa in the UAE you will need the following documents:

  • A valid Passport (at least 6 months)
  • Passport copies (approx. 4)
  • Photographs (approx. 12)

Visas normally take between 2-5 weeks to process once all relevant documentation has been received. Express visas are usually processed in 1-3 weeks.

Health insurance

UAE immigration policites require all students to have health insurance for the duration of their Student Residence Visa. Normally your university will grant you medical insurance cover once they have sponsored you for a visa and you have attended a medical examination. This examination is relatively detailed. It includes testing for HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and syphilis amongst other conditions.

Other immigration requirements

UAE immigration rules require students with a university visa to also hold a valid Emirates ID card. This will cost around UAE 100 (GBP £20) and will need to be renewed each year along with the Student visa.

You may also be asked to present the following documents upon arrival in the UAE:

  • A copy of your university offer letter.
  • Transcripts of your undergraduate degree.
  • Bank statements showing evidence of sufficient funds for accommodation and living costs (evidence of funding may also be accepted).
  • A tenancy agreement (or a letter from your university's accommodation office).
  • A copy of a receipt for your current year's tuition fees.
  • A copy of a receipt for your current year's visa fees.

These materials will help confirm that you are studying in the UAE as a legitimate student and that you can support yourself as you do so. Your university's international office should be able to provide advice on the specific documents required in your case.

Fees and funding for Masters Degrees in the UAE

While postgraduate study at public universities in the UAE is free to UAE citizens, all international students have to pay tuition fees.

Courses are assessed by semester credit hours and universities will normally charge tuition fees per credit. This means that the exact cost of a Masters in the UAE can vary, depending on the credits required on your course.

Private universities in the UAE set their own tuition rates, which also cause fees to vary.

The cost of a Masters degree in the UAE

Prices for a Masters Degree are generally fairly expensive and can range from around AD 48,000 (£9,000) to as much as AED 120,000 (£24,000) for specialised programmes.

Funding for postgraduate study in the UAE

The relatively high cost of Masters study in the UAE can be offset by funding.

The United Arab Emirates doesn't currently offer a scholarship scheme for international postgraduates. However, some Universities in the UAE offer tuition grants and scholarships to international Masters students

The best way to find funding for postgraduate study in the UAE is to search for a suitable course and then enquire about support from your university.

Student living costs in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is famous for glamour, designer shopping and luxury, but that doesn't mean affordable options aren't available for postgraduates. The UAE is keen to grow its university sector and that means providing appropriate facilities and accommodation options for students.

Student accommodation

Most UAE universities will have optional student housing either on campus, or nearby. Even the largest cities in the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, are quite small in comparison to those in Europe and America, so it is unlikely that you will live far from your university.

Should you live in university student housing, you can expect to share a dormitory style room with another student, although single rooms may also be available. Prices are normally charged per semester and vary between universities. A housing deposit will also be required and will be refunded upon graduation or withdrawal.

Student Housing Costs in the UAE (per semester)
Shared room AED 3,000 - 9,000 £600-1,800
Single room AED 8,000 - 15,000 £1,600-3,800
Housing deposit AED 1,000 £200

Much of the available student accommodation may be filled by undergraduates. You should therefore apply early to confirm that rooms are available for Masters student 0 and ensure that you get one!

Living costs

Student living costs vary across the UAE, but the country's cities are often expensive places to live. The cost of living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has also been increasing.

However, while rent, retail shopping and dining can be expensive, basic student food and groceries are still affordable.

The following tables give typical prices for some of the goods and services you'll need whilst studying in the United Arab Emirates.

Item Price (AED) Price (£)
Milk (1 litre) 5.60 1
Loaf of bread (500g) 4.55 0.8
Potatoes (1kg) 5.18 1
Chicken breasts (1kg) 26.46 5
Rice (1kg) 9.35 1.75

Monthly Utilities
Item Price (AED) Price (£)
Monthly travel pass 230 43
Broadband internet (10mbps, uncapped) 314 59
Domestic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water and Waste) 610 115

Note Information in the above tables is based on crowd-sourced data collected by Numbeo. Figures are approximate and provided for comparative purposes only. They do not take account of student discounts and may vary over time or between cities.

After graduation careers and opportunities with a UAE Masters degree

Expansive government and private investment means that Postgraduate study in the UAE can offer a combination of academic excellence with state of the art facilities. The learning styles have been greatly influenced by Western higher-education institutions, but with ultra-modern exuberance.

The UAE’s highly international population will also offer you a unique insight to multi-cultural living, while the perk of year-round sunshine cannot be ignored.

The two largest cities, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, are international economic hubs which offer many career opportunities after graduation... and even the prospect of a tax-free salary!

Working in the UAE

University career services will have an understanding of the local labour market and can advise you on employment opportunities during and after your degree.

Ready to start looking for a Masters in the UAE?

Hopefully this page has answered your questions about Masters degrees in the United Arab Emirates. If you're ready to start your postgraduate study abroad adventure, the next step is to search for a UAE Masters degree.

Last updated - 21/03/2016

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