Masters Study in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - A Guide for 2020 |
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Masters Study in the United Arab Emirates - A Guide for 2020

Known for its year-round sunshine, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a land where tradition meets modernity and the desert meets cosmopolitan urban oases. 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, while maintaining traditional Arabic values.

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.

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Postgraduate opportunities in the UAE – what’s on offer for 2020?

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 complement 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 of more than 75,000, with its bustling cities offering a competitive range of postgraduate degrees.

These are some of the most compelling reasons to consider a Masters in the UAE this year:

  • International outlook – The UAE is home to international branches of many universities. The Dubai International Academic City, a purpose-built tertiary education zone, has 25 university campuses run by institutions from nine different countries.
  • Cultural diversity – The UAE is formed of seven Emirates, each with their own traditions and culture. Studying a Masters in the UAE will give you the chance to experience this diversity first-hand.
  • Cutting-edge higher education – Even though its higher education sector is relatively young, the UAE can be rightfully proud of its modernisation efforts in this area.

Masters Study in the UAE - Key Details
Universities 76
Oldest University United Arab Emirates University (1976)
International Students 64,447
Course Length 1-2 years
Average Fees AED 48,000-130,000 (USD $13,000-35,400)
Academic Year September to June

UAE universities

The UAE has based its higher education system on examples from the UK, America, France, Germany, Canada and Russia, among others. 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 recognition for high standards.

There are three public universities in the United Arab Emirates:

  • United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)
  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT)
  • Zayed University (ZU)

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.

Leading examples include:

  • American University in Dubai (AUD)
  • American University of Sharjah (AUS)
  • Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU)
  • University of Sharjah (UOS)
  • Abu Dhabi University (ADU)

UAE university rankings

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

Top UAE Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
United Arab Emirates University 301-350 =329 -
Khalifa University 351-400 =268 701-800
University of Sharjah 601-800 651-700 -
American University of Sharjah 801-1000 371 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for Masters degrees?

International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.

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 seven 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.

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.

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.

Course types

Masters degrees in the UAE are organised in a similar way to those in other parts of the world, with MA, MSc and MBA courses available at most institutions.

Popular areas of postgraduate study in the UAE include Business Administration, Engineering, Architecture, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences.

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 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. Some accelerated part-time courses can be completed in as little as one year, although these are less common.

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

Masters fees and funding 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 depends on the required credits for on your course.

Private universities in the UAE set their own tuition rates.

The cost of a Masters degree in the UAE

Prices for a Masters degree are generally fairly expensive and can range from around AED 48,000 (USD $13,000) to as much as AED 130,000 (USD $35,400) for specialised programmes. There’s also an application fee of about AED 200 (USD $55) for most courses.

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, most 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 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.

If 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.

In terms of prices, the United Arab Emirates University charges a fee of AED 5,000 (USD $1,360) per semester. There is also likely to be a housing deposit of AED 1,000 (USD $270).

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 is on the rise.

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

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 Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (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

If English is not your first language and you want to study a programme delivered 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 60 (internet-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.

Visas and immigration for Masters students 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 UAE 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:

  • Student visa fee – up to AED 3,000 (USD $820)
  • Visa deposit – AED 3,500 (USD $955)

Visa applications

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

  • A letter of admission from your university
  • A copy of the receipt for your university registration fee
  • A completed visa form
  • A copy of your passport (valid for at least seven months)
  • A scanned photograph of yourself

Visas normally take between three to five weeks to process once all relevant documentation has been received. Express visas are usually processed in one to three weeks.

Health insurance

UAE immigration policies 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.

Other immigration requirements

UAE immigration rules require students with a university visa to also hold a valid Emirates ID card. This will cost around AED 100 (USD $30) 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.

Next steps

Generous government and private investment means that postgraduate study in the UAE offers a combination of academic excellence with state-of-the-art facilities, greatly influenced by Western higher education institutions.

The UAE’s highly international population will also offer you a unique insight into 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!

Search for a Masters in the UAE

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Last updated 22/01/2020

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