Studying in the United Arab Emirates can certainly have its benefits: sun, sea, sand, potential tax-free earnings after graduation, and, according to the QS World University Rankings, some of the best universities in the Gulf region.
Commonly shortened to UAE, the United Arab Emirates is made up of seven states, or emirates (kind of like a much, much smaller version of the United States).
As with states in the US, each emirate has some degree of independence, but there’s also a federal government. This is known as the Supreme Council of Rulers, and is made up of the seven emirs – the leaders of each emirate – who inherit their positions.
Since the 1950s, when oil was discovered in the region, the UAE’s economy has undergone rapid change.
As well as oil and gas exportation, the country has focused on growing its construction and tourism industries; to an extent these go hand in hand – the impressive feats of modern design on display in Dubai are among the main attractions for visitors.
Universities in the UAE
The largest higher education institution in the UAE is the Higher Colleges of Technology, which has some 17 campuses across the country.
The United Arab Emirates University, based in the city of Al Ain in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, is also growing fast, and is the UAE’s highest ranked in the QS World University Rankings 2011/12.
Also featuring in the rankings is the American University of Sharjah (AUS), which is licensed both in the UAE and in the US. AUS offers courses based on the US model of higher education, and is a popular choice with international students, resulting in a very diverse student body.
In addition, a number of highly ranked universities based in other countries have branch campuses in the UAE.
Despite still having a hereditary governing system, the UAE offers a relatively open and tolerant society, and certainly a diverse one.
An estimated 15-20% of the population are native Emiratis; the rest are expats, mainly from Asia, Europe and North America. However, despite the large expat population, it is important to be aware of local customs and laws on public conduct to avoid causing offence – or getting arrested!
Universities in Dubai
The first thing to mention about Dubai is its incredible skyline, featuring more ‘supertall’ skyscrapers than any other city. Among them is the Burj Khalifa, which at just under 830m is the world’s tallest manmade structure.
Other impressive feats of modern construction include the three Palm Islands (the world’s biggest manmade islands), the ‘world’ islands (designed to resemble the world when viewed from above) and Ski Dubai (the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort).
Towards the outskirts of the city is Dubai International Academic City, an area which is home to 27 university campuses run by institutions from 11 different countries. These include branch campuses run by Australia’s University of Wollongong, the UK’s Middlesex University and the USA’s Michigan State University.
Universities in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers are not quite as awe-inspiring as Dubai’s, but then again, who needs the world’s tallest building when you’ve got the world’s most expensive Grand Prix circuit?
However, that’s not to say that the architecture isn’t pretty impressive. Take, for example, the striking circular design of the new Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus, with a central dome based on the prestigious university’s iconic main building in Paris.
As well as Paris-Sorbonne, New York University also has a branch campus in the city, as does the New York Film Academy. There’s also the relatively young Abu Dhabi University, which has a campus on the edge of the city (and another in Al Ain), with well-developed support systems for international students.
Universities in Sharjah
Sharjah’s University City, similar to Dubai’s International Academic City, is an area with a high concentration of universities. These include the American University of Sharjah, the University of Sharjah, Skyline University College, Sharjah Teaching Hospital and the men’s and women’s colleges of the Higher Colleges of Technology.
University City is around seven miles away from the city centre, but forms its own community, with a selection of shops, banks, restaurants and sports facilities, as well as student accommodation.
Those who do leave campus will find plenty to do. There’s the Eye of the Emirates, a 60m-high observation wheel offering views across Sharjah and Dubai; the spectacular Blue Souk shopping centre; and the beautiful Khalid Lagoon, which has the third-tallest fountain in the world and hosts the annual F1 Powerboat Race.
Applying to universities in the UAE
Each institution sets its own admission requirements, but at state universities students are normally expected to be proficient in speaking Arabic, as well as English - the main language used at universities in the UAE.
To enter the country, you’ll need a sponsor from within the UAE. If you have no relatives or contacts based there, the university offering you a place will usually do this for you.
Usually a student residence visa will only be issued for one year at a time, and can then be renewed.
You should also expect to be asked to undergo a medical examination at an authorised UAE centre, which will include testing for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, leprosy and syphilis. Anyone testing positive for any of these, with the exception of syphilis, will be deported.
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