Why is the United Arab Emirates attracting expat students and families?

  • young woman in Dubai
Published on 2022-06-08 at 12:00 by Ester Rodrigues
Extensive reforms to Emirates' entry and residency scheme make it easier for expats to come to Dubai and other cities to make it a long-standing base for themselves. UAE schools and universities have observed a slight increase in new student enrolments for the upcoming academic year after the new visa announcements. So, what has been attracting student expats to move to the UAE? 

According to HBSC, the UAE offers expats an exceptional quality of life. “There's modern accommodation and medical facilities, good international schools, and a highly developed infrastructure”. Expats will also find plenty of activities to keep them entertained in the lively cities of Dubai and the capital, Abu Dhabi.

Ashwin Assomull, Head of LEK Consulting's Global Education Practice, said to Khaleej Times, “There is a lot of commentary on the impact of Golden and Green visas on immigration to Dubai from other parts of the world. That is part of the driver making it easier for people to come to Dubai and make it a long-standing base for themselves. What is going to really boost enrolment is the fact that we have a vibrant K12 sector. KHDA has done a great job of building with the private sector operators and investors. There is a wide range of curricula, price points and offerings available in Dubai."

Where are the international students from? 

In 2018, the World Education Review accounted 624 international schools with 627,800 enrolled students in the UAE (up from 548 schools with 545,074 students in 2016). Besides, the number of international degree-seeking students in the UAE witnessed a spike from 48,653 in 2011 to 77,463 in 2016 according to data from UNESCO.

India is one of the 1st countries of origin of foreign degree-seeking students in the UAE: the number of Indians enrolled in degree programs in the UAE has increased by 50 percent since 2011. As per Unesco, Indians make up 17 percent (13,370 students in 2016) of all international students. Other countries from the region, such as Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Oman, send over 5,000 students, followed by Pakistan. The UAE is a country looked out for students from regional countries which face war and conflicts, such as Iraq, Egypt, and Syria.

These expats face challenges when trying to move abroad to western countries, where securing visas and education costs are challenging. In this context, the UAE seems a good option as an ‘education hub.'

What are the benefits of moving to the UAE? 

Assomull explains to Khaleej Times that there are several other factors for people to move to Dubai and the UAE and make it their base besides its visa facilities. “The way Dubai managed Covid-19 is a success story. The way Covid-19 was handled in India has also led to many Indian residents leaving the country. From Europe, we'll see a lot of people moving in as taxes increase there. Dubai has always been a safe haven offering a lot of leisure activities. These are all the factors leading to increased enrolments in the Emirate.”

One of the benefits of moving to study in the UAE is its generous scholarship options for international students. Some of the most renowned are the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology Scholarship, Emirates Aviation University Scholarships, Curtin University Dubai Scholarships, University of Dubai International Scholarships and Middlesex University Dubai Grant for International Students. 

The UAE expects more outstanding and talented international students to enroll in higher education institutions in the country due to the new types of visas. The country is becoming a popular destination for international students due to the high level of safety, innovation of new programs, and quality of education offered in the UAE, according to Ashwin Assomull. Additionally, the new rules, along with the introduction of Golden visas in 2019, have been facilitating new opportunities, such as granting residence visas to the family members of the Golden visa holders, for example. This may boost student enrolments in post-graduate programs as well as they can bring their relatives.