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PhD Study in the United Arab Emirates - A Guide for 2019

Excellent natural resources and a growth in luxury tourism have seen the United Arab Emirates develop into the second largest Arab economy. But there’s more to the UAE than industry and commerce and it isn’t just travellers that visit its high-tech cities: investment in universities and research means this region also offers unique opportunities for cutting-edge doctoral work.

This page covers everything you need to know when searching for a PhD in the United Arab Emirates, with information on universities, application requirements and international funding.

On this page

PhD opportunities in the UAE - what's on offer for 2019?

The UAE offer a brilliant combination of higher education and cosmopolitan culture.

Famous for its business schools as much as its designer shopping (and possibly in the future its Mars simulation city), the UAE is a fantastic place for international study.

Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in some great extra-curricular activities. Whether that involves walking around the Dubai Fountains or observing the Persian Gulf from the world’s tallest building: the Burj Khalifa.

Here are a few more specific reasons to consider a PhD in the UAE this year:

  • The Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT) - The UAE is now home to one of the largest research centres in the Middle East and aims to train PhD students in order to develop and shape the region’s future.
  • Domestic university and international branch campuses - Their PhD degrees are accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the international universities educating body (British/USA/Australian).
  • A wide range of opportunities - A PhD will be able to easily explore the seven different emirates; all of which have their own laws, cultures, traditions and landscapes.

PhD Study in the UAE
Universities 58
Oldest University United Arab Emirates University (1976)
International Students 77,463
PhD Length 3-4 years
Typical Fees 129,600-359,964 AED (USD $35,262-98,010)
Academic Year September to June

United Arab Emirates universities

The UAE higher education system is similar to the UK, offering Bachelors, Masters and doctoral degrees.

Not all institutions offer PhD study, and a number only offer programmes in a specific discipline. If in doubt, check university websites or contact their admissions office.

Public and private institutions

UAE higher education institutions can be divided into two categories according to: the funding they receive, how they are operated and whether international students can attend them.

  • Public higher institutions - There are 3 main UAE Government institutions and 5 other public institutions. These are administered by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and are usually restricted to UAE nationals and children of UAE nationals.
  • Private higher institutions - These are non-government funded and are open to international applications. They are licensed and accredited by the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA).

International student applications

It is best to check with the university directly as to whether they accept applications from non-UAE nationals - some public higher institutions do have exceptions in place.

United Arab Emirates university rankings

The UAE’s growing higher education sector has begun to receive international recognition, with four institutions featuring within the most recent QS and THE world rankings. The UAE Government is currently investing money into institutions and research centres to improve the higher education system.


Top UAE Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
Khalifa University 301-350 =315 -
United Arab Emirates University 351-400 350 -
American University of Sharjah 801-1000 =376 -
University of Sharjah 801-1000 651-700 -
American University in Dubai - 561-570 -
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 ranking matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Other opportunities

There are a number of specialised college and research centres in the UAE that offer PhD programmes.

Within the capital city Abu Dhabi there are 17 government funded Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT). The HCT are enhanced institutions of applied higher education; and are designed to produce skilled PhD researchers that will shape the UAE’s future.

The specialised research centres are typically linked with a partner university or higher college.

  • Emirates Technology and Innovation Centre (ETIC)
  • Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT)

If you conduct your PhD within a research centre your degree will be accredited by the partnering institution.

United Arab Emirates university cities

The United Arab Emirates is a federation made up of seven Emirates. All feature several higher education institutes and research facilities.

The United Arab Emirates main university cities include: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman.

PhD structure

The core component of the UAE PhD programme is similar to that of the UK and other countries. You will conduct independent research and eventually submit and defend a thesis detailing your results.

However, during a UAE PhD you will also undertake courses designed to improve your skills as an independent researcher.

Programme length

The majority of UAE doctorate programmes involve three or four years of full-time research. Under the terms of a student residence visa international students are not permitted to study part-time.

The full-time academic year in the UAE consists of two semesters: fall (September-December) and Spring (January-June).

Assessment and examination

There are different types of doctoral programme within the UAE and it depends upon your institution as to the format of your studies. Typically, they are made up of two sections, courses and research.

Programmes may involve a number of taught courses; there are core and elective courses covering topics such as research methodology. Courses are typically assessed via coursework or a comprehensive exam.

The research section of your work will be made up of a literature review and your thesis. You will have to defend your thesis in an oral examination (viva voice) in front of experts in the field. (This is slightly different to the private internal and external examiner format in countries like the UK).

Fees and funding

In the UAE there is no standard tuition fee cap and fees are considerably higher than they are in other countries like the UK.

However, as with the UK there are university scholarship programmes available to international students, making the UAE an affordable option for PhD study abroad.

PhD fees

Universities in the United Arab Emirates are free to set their own fees. Instead of setting an annual fee, most institutions will charge per credit-hour. This system is similar to the credit-hour system adopted in the USA.

Each institution will have a set number of credit hours you have to complete to pass your degree; but, typically universities will charge between 129,600-359,964 AED (USD $35,262-98,010) for a 3-4-year programme.

Living costs

Known as one of the most beautiful places in the Middle East and the world the UAE is a brilliant place to live during a PhD. However, the cost of living is relatively high.

As a rough guide an international student need between 3,000-6,000 AED (USD $817-1,634) a month, this will vary depending upon location.

You can save a considerable amount of money opting for university accommodation rather than private rentals:

  • University accommodation - you will have to pay a security fund deposit, this varies depending upon institution and is returned at the end of your studies. Average rental costs are 1,500-3,000 AED (USD $408-817) per month.
  • Private rental - for a standard one bed private rental flat this will cost around 5,000 AED (USD $1,361) a month.

Graduate research teaching assistant (GRTA)

Some universities within the UAE offer a teaching assistantship scheme similar to the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) position in the UK.

The GRTA is offered to international students to assist in funding of their studies. The assistantship covers:

  • Tuition fees - full coverage of your tuition fee costs for the entirety of your study
  • Research support funds - this is money set aside for you to attend international research conferences
  • Monthly stipend - your monthly stipend will be based upon the average number of teaching hours you work throughout your PhD study
  • Medical insurance - provided your visa is sponsored by your University the assistantship will cover your medical insurance costs

Research teaching assistant

You should check with universities directly to see whether they offer research teaching assistantships, what the requirements are and what the costs it covers.

Graduate research scholarship and fellowship for international PhD students

Some universities may offer scholarships and fellowships specific to international students.

A typical scholarship includes a number of benefits, but most are subject to certain requirements you must meet during your PhD studies:

  • Living costs paid - you will receive a monthly stipend, medical insurance and a housing allowance
  • University costs covered - the scholarship covers the cost of full tuition and research support for consumables and conferences
  • Requirements - you must spend a minimum of 20-hours a week with your supervisor, present your research outcomes, publish 2 papers and have no other work duties

A studentship has fewer benefits than the scholarship, it will only cover your full tuition costs and medical insurance. In turn, it is subject to fewer requirements: You must spend a minimum of 10-hours a week with your supervisor, present your research outcomes and publish 1 paper.

You should apply for the scholarships directly on the university’s website and deadlines are typically the same as for the graduate programmes.

Applying for a PhD in the United Arab Emirates

As not every institution in the UAE offers PhD programmes there are no centralised application services. You should apply directly to your university of choice after ensuring they have a PhD programme.

Admission requirements

Different institutions will have their own requirements and minimum grades for admission to their programmes, but there are a couple of key things most will require:

  • A Masters degree - you must hold a Masters degree from a university recognised by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education. Typically, a minimum GPA 3.3/4.0 (63% in UK Masters/pass in MPhil) or equivalent is required
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) - this is a standardised test that all applicants must complete prior to applying for the programme. Each institution/department sets its own requirements for the minimum GRE score.
  • Research proposal - this will be a short summary of the project you want to do, including aims, hypothesis and research methods.

Some universities will also require you to submit a statement of purpose; including your specific plans and goals that you hope to achieve from the programme.

Language requirements

Some PhD programmes for international students are taught in Arabic and others are taught in English. Depending on the programme you choose there may be a language requirement.

Usually private institutions will teach in English. Public universities are more likely to teach in Arabic and require students to be fluent in this language (and potentially English too).

If you have completed a Masters/Bachelors taught in English, you may not need to complete an English language test. Otherwise, commonly accepted scores include:

  • International English language Testing System (IELTS ) - Score of 6.5 or higher where the course is taught in English, or dissertation is submitted in English. Score of 5.0 or equivalent for courses taught in Arabic.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) - A score of 91 or equivalent in the internet based TOEFL test for courses taught in English.
  • If you do not reach the language entry requirements contact the university directly, as they do sometimes admit students during clearing with lower scores.

Application process

In the UAE students are required do research about PhD and email a prospective supervisor to discuss their research before filling out applications.

Following this there are several steps you must complete:

  • Complete the application form - this is typically online, through the university's own webpage
  • Provide academic transcripts - two copies of your full academic transcripts, available from your university and college
  • Provide references - two recommendation letters from professionals who have taught/worked with you
  • Provide proof of funds - evidence of your scholarship, or that you have sufficient funds. They will need to see that you can afford both tuition fees and living costs
  • Pay the application fee - this varies but is typically 420 AED (USD $114)
  • Other - you must submit an up to date CV, a copy of your passport and a passport style photograph

All applications must be reviewed and recommended for admission or rejection by the academic department; and reviewed and endorsed by the Doctoral Study Committee.

Choosing a PhD supervisor

Choosing the right supervisor is essential for a PhD. Not sure how to pick a potential supervisor for your PhD, or how to approach them once you have? We have a guide to help you.

Interviews

Some universities may wish to discuss your application with you; if this is the case they may ask you for an interview. They probably won’t expect you to fly over to the UAE for an hour, these will usually be conducted through a web-chat or video-conferencing channel.

What happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in China will follow a fairly standard format (apart from the fact in may take place online). Our guides give advice on what happens at a PhD interview and an overview of some questions you might be asked.

Student visas

All international students will be required to obtain a student residence visa, except those from the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries : Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

For a student residence visa, full-time students must be sponsored by the university they are attending – not all institutions offer this. Your university will start the visa application process as soon as you are admitted on to the programme as they take 2-5 weeks to process.

You can expect to pay between 1,100-3,000 AED (USD $299-817) for the visa with a deposit typically between 1,000-1,300 AED (USD $272-354).

To apply for a visa you must submit the following documents:

  • An original and photocopy of your passport with 6-months validity and passport photos
  • Your university acceptance letter, a bank statement showing proof of funds and your tenancy agreement/university accommodation letter
  • A medical test conducted at an UAE authorised medical centre and possible a security check to make sure you are not a threat to UAE security

Student resident permit visas are only valid for 12-months and have to be renewed for each year of study. Renewal typically costs between 1,000-3,000 AED (USD $272-817) depending upon this institution.

Medical test

Some pre-existing medical conditions, including: HIV, TB, Hepatitis B/C and leprosy can debar students from entering the UAE or risk deportation. If you’re unsure, check with your university and arrange a medical test before arriving.

Working in the UAE as an international PhD student

Under a new Federal Law, international students are permitted to work part-time alongside their studies.

You are allowed to apply for unpaid internships or paid placements in addition to part-time work. However, for any paid work you must have university sponsorship and obtain a working permit from the UAE Labor department.

For any off-campus work you must obtain permission from your institution.

Health insurance

It is required that you obtain health insurance in your own country prior to arriving in the UAE. Ensure this insurance covers the entirety of your stay.

Next steps

As you can see there are many things to do in the UAE, with seven emirates to visit, a diverse culture and excellent research facilities. All of this means you will certainly enjoy your PhD experience studying there, but what can you do next?

Can I work in the UAE after my PhD?

The UAE encourages international students to remain in the UAE after graduation.

With the accessibility of working visas and permits, large trade centres and a thriving business and economy sector, it isn’t surprising that 85% of the UAE population are internationals.

Once you’ve completed your PhD you must secure a job in order to procure a working visa. Following this, your employer must obtain a work permit for you from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

Your employer (sponsoring company) arranges for, medical testing, a UAE Resident Identity (Emirates ID) Card, Labour Card and stamp of the work residency permit on your passport (within 60 days). After these are completed you can sponsor family members and bring them into the country.

UAE laws and cultural expectations for international students

The UAE is a respectable, beautiful and popular destination and you will definitely enjoy your time there.

To make your PhD study abroad experience easier there are a number of laws and customs you must respect:

  • Zero tolerance of drink and drug driving
  • You must have a specific license to consume alcohol
  • It is illegal to have relationships outside marriage
  • Women must dress comfortably but modestly when out in public

Your university’s international office should be able to advice you if you have any questions about customs and cultural expectations whilst studying in the UAE.

Find a PhD in the UAE

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in the UAE. Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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