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.
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:
|Oldest University||United Arab Emirates University (1976)|
|PhD Length||3-4 years|
|Typical Fees||129,600-359,964 AED (USD $35,290-98,020)|
|Academic Year||September to June|
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.
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.
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.
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.
|University||THE 2020||QS 2020||ARWU 2019|
|United Arab Emirates University||301-350||=329||-|
|University of Sharjah||601-800||371||-|
|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.|
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.
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.
If you conduct your PhD within a research centre your degree will be accredited by the partnering institution.
The United Arab Emirates is a federation made up of seven Emirates. All feature several higher education institutes and research facilities.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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 $35,290-98,020) for a 3-4-year programme.
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:
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:
You should check with universities directly to see whether they offer research teaching assistantships, what the requirements are and what the costs it covers.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
If you do not reach the language entry requirements contact the university directly, as they do sometimes admit students during clearing with lower scores.
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:
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 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.
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.
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 $300-817) 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
Last updated - 22/01/2020