Abu Dhabi continues to make significant investments in its education sector, which is set to remain an area of consistent growth in the coming years. Education is a key component of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the emirate’s long-term development strategy that aims to build a globally competitive, knowledge-based economy for the post-oil era, and raising teaching standards is considered essential to meeting the needs of the future labour market. To this end, the authorities are seeking to diversify the skills of the local population and investing in education to broaden the range of opportunities available to Emiratis. Recent developments in the sector include the expansion of technology and use of artificial intelligence (AI) in schools, and a greater emphasis on technical and vocational training. The emirate also continues to encourage international private schools and tertiary education institutions to open new campuses in Abu Dhabi.

Structure & Oversight

The regulation of Abu Dhabi’s education sector is the responsibility of several federal and emirate-level government bodies. At the federal level, the Ministry of Education (MoE) is responsible for developing the UAE’s national curriculum and assessment standards. The MoE aims to promote a culture of creativity and innovation by imbuing students with the skills required by the modern, technology-driven world. In addition, since the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research merged with the MoE in 2016, the ministry has overseen the general planning of tertiary education in the UAE.

Several other federal organisations play an important role. The Commission for Academic Accreditation, established in 1999, is responsible for licensing higher education institutions and accrediting their academic programmes. In 2008 the National Authority for Scientific Research was formed to support innovation and development, and was followed in 2010 by the National Qualifications Authority (NQA), which is charged with managing the country’s qualifications framework.

At the emirate level, the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) is responsible for overseeing and developing Abu Dhabi’s public and private education systems at all stages. Known as the Abu Dhabi Education Council from its formation in 2005 until 2017, ADEK monitors the progress of students and evaluates the performance of each institution. The department also regulates the cost of private education and must approve all requests to change an institution’s fee structure. ADEK manages the Abu Dhabi Research and Development Authority (ADRDA), an agency formed in November 2019 to support the expansion of research and development (R&D) activity in the emirate.

ADEK works alongside the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training ( ACTVET), the government body responsible for regulating technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and other institutions, as well as licensing associated staff. ACTVET’s core objectives include increasing the number of skilled Emirati graduates, aligning curricula with labour market demand, promoting lifelong learning and ensuring career success for TVET graduates, with the goal of popularising TVET courses as the preferred education path in the UAE.

Economic Contribution

According to the “Statistical Yearbook of Abu Dhabi 2020” from Statistics Centre – Abu Dhabi (SCAD), the education sector contributed Dh14.6bn ($4bn) to the emirate’s economy in 2019, representing 1.6% of GDP at current prices. Although it continues to expand, the sector has experienced mixed performance in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015 it grew at an average of 2.9% per year in real terms, picking up to 9.6% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2017 before falling to 1.6% in 2018 and 2019. At constant 2007 prices, the sector’s contribution to GDP has remained fairly stable in recent years. In 2019 education accounted for 1.1% of GDP, remaining unchanged from 2017 and 2018 and up slightly from 1% in 2016. A substantial amount of the UAE’s budget is allocated to the development of the education sector. In 2020 the sector received Dh10.4bn ($2.8bn), representing 14.8% of the total budget, of which Dh6.7bn ($1.8bn) was earmarked for public schools. The remaining Dh3.7bn ($1bn) will be used to fund higher education.

Performance & Size

Within the Gulf region, Abu Dhabi has a relatively mature education market. The education system includes both public and private segments, with a number of higher education and vocational training institutions in both sectors. In the UAE children are required by law to start school at the age of six and remain in education until the age of 18. The academic year is divided into three semesters, which run from September until June.

According to the most up-to-date information released by SCAD, in the 2018/19 school year there were 449 schools in Abu Dhabi, with 16,681 classrooms and 386,722 pupils enrolled from kindergarten to grade 12. Public institutions represented 34.7% of the emirate’s classrooms, with private schools making up the remaining 65.3%. There were 29,094 teachers and 9849 administrative staff, with an average of 13.3 pupils per teacher and 23.2 pupils per classroom. Some 61.2% of Emirati students attended government-run schools and 38.8% were enrolled in private institutions, while 13.3% of expatriates attended public schools and 86.7% were educated privately. Available statistics for 2018/19 indicate that 20.5% of jobs in Abu Dhabi’s education sector were taken up by Emiratis. However, the Emiratisation rate is far higher in the public sector: citizens represented 53.8% of government education workers and 1.5% of private education workers. Around 41% of teachers in the public segment were Emiratis, compared to 1.2% in the private segment. Although the number of Emirati teachers in the private sector remains low, the proportion has increased in recent years. According to SCAD, 0.2% of teachers in the private segment were Emiratis in 2016/17.

Public Schools

Public education in Abu Dhabi is free of charge for citizens at all stages, including university, and non-UAE nationals are able to attend government schools as fee-paying pupils. In the 2018/19 academic year there were 251 public schools with a total of 137,979 pupils, 10,444 teachers and 3707 administrative staff.

Children usually begin school in kindergarten, which is open to pupils over the age of three years and six months, although most children begin at four or five years old . All kindergarten teachers are female, as are the majority of teaching staff in grades 1-5. After kindergarten, students must pass through 12 grades of schooling, which are divided into three cycles: Cycle 1, containing grades 1-5; Cycle 2, comprising grades 6-9; and Cycle 3, also known as secondary school, which is made up of grades 10-12. Public kindergartens follow a bilingual curriculum with teaching in Arabic and English, but Arabic is the main language of instruction at public schools. English is also used to teach some science and technical subjects. Public institutions, including universities, are gender segregated. While most government schools offer only one stage of education – either kindergarten, Cycle 1, Cycle 2 or Cycle 3 – an increasing number of public schools offer multi-stage education.

In 2018/19 gross enrolment ratios in the first, second and third cycles were 97.9%, 99% and 95.23%, respectively. The progression rate to secondary school was 95.7% for boys and 94.9% for girls. Of the emirate’s 251 public schools, 53 were kindergartens, 29 were Cycle 1, 35 were Cycle 2, 33 were secondary schools and 101 offered multi-stage education.

Private Schools

Private schools in Abu Dhabi are regulated by Private Schools and Quality Assurance (PSQA), a directorate of ADEK. PSQA is responsible for licensing, monitoring and inspecting private institutions. Private schools in the emirate offer a wide range of curricula, including the International Baccalaureate, the MoE syllabus and other international education systems, with 14 different curricula offered in total. According to ADEK, the most popular was the US syllabus, which was taught to 26.5% of private school pupils in 2017/18, followed by curricula from the UK (23.2%), the MoE (20.3%) and India (18%). The remaining 12% was made up of other international curricula, including French and Filipino education systems. That year there were 59 US schools, 57 UK schools, 50 MoE syllabus schools, 27 Indian schools and 30 schools following other curricula. All institutions are required to provide teaching in core UAE programmes such as Islamic education, social studies and Arabic language.

In the 2018/19 academic year there were 198 private schools with a total of 248,743 pupils, 18,653 teachers and 6142 administrative staff. All 198 schools offered multi-stage education. In 2018/19, 295,300 places were available at the emirate’s private schools. Private institutions are divided into five fee categories: very low, charging less than Dh10,000 ($2720); low (Dh10,000-19,999, $2720-5440); medium (Dh20, 000-29,999, $5440-8170); high (Dh30,000-49,999, $ 8170-13,600); and premium (above Dh50,000, $13,600). According to the most recent PSQA figures, 78% of students were enrolled in very low- to medium-tier schools, while 15% attended high-tier schools and 7% went to premium schools. Private school enrolment recorded a compound annual growth rate of 5% between 2014/15 and 2018/19. This is set to continue, with the number of private students expected to reach 282,000 in the 2020/21 academic year, according to ADEK. The department has identified 27 available plots of land across the emirate for potential school development, including 22 within the Abu Dhabi Municipality.

Higher Education

In 2018/19 there were 32 higher education institutions in Abu Dhabi, with a total intake of 56,289. Emiratis represented 76.4% of students and expatriates made up the remaining 23.6%. Some 65.6% of students were female and 34.4% were male. Of the emirate’s higher education establishments, 21 are public and 11 are private. The emirate is home to a number of other public higher education establishments such as science-focused Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KU) and Mohammed V University Abu Dhabi. A number of federal institutions are also based in Abu Dhabi, including the country’s oldest university, UAE University, which was founded in 1976; the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest tertiary education institution in the country, which was created in 1988; and Zayed University, which was established in 1998. Major private institutions include Abu Dhabi University, New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi and Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

University Expansion

A number of the emirate’s universities are in the process of expanding in size and intake. In November 2019 NYU Abu Dhabi announced plans to increase its student numbers from 1500 to 2200 by 2024. The university will not need to construct any new facilities as it already has the capacity to support a larger student population. To encourage more applications, NYU is launching new courses at its Abu Dhabi campus, which will begin in the 2020/21 academic year. These include two new master’s programmes in art and economics.

Abu Dhabi University is also building a new 54,000-sq-metre campus with 36 scientific laboratories located in Al Ain’s Asharej district. The university will have a capacity of 2500 students in its first phase and increase to a total of 5000 students. As of June 2020, the university was set to open in September 2020. The project is estimated to cost Dh300m ($81.7m). In December 2019 the university announced that construction was 75% complete.

Education Strategies

Education forms a key part of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. The strategy is structured around seven pillars, two of which are related to education – improving labour market efficiency, and developing a skilled and productive workforce. Additionally, ADEK’s strategic priorities include improving learning outcomes in all levels, increasing the diversity of educational opportunities, ensuring that curricula are aligned to the needs of the labour market, developing the emirate’s research ecosystem, and making Abu Dhabi a regional and international centre for education. In order to achieve these goals, ADEK launched its 10-Year Strategic Plan in 2009. The plan places particular emphasis on improving English language proficiency, particularly among teachers. To this end, the department has sought to increase the recruitment of native English speakers to teach the language in public institutions. The emirate’s plans to develop a sustainable, knowledge-based economy served by a high-quality education system are supported by UAE Vision 2021, as well as a number of sector strategies being implemented at the federal level. UAE Vision 2021 identifies the development of a globally competitive education system as one of its six national priorities. The plan outlines a complete transformation of the current education system.

The UAE National Agenda, designed to guide efforts towards UAE Vision 2021, aims for every student to be equipped with smart systems and devices, which will be used as a basis for all teaching, projects and research. Other objectives include raising kindergarten enrolment rates and increasing the number of internationally accredited institutions. Alongside UAE Vision 2021, the country’s Education 2020 Strategy was launched in 2010 to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The programme focuses on the implementation of smart learning programmes, curriculum reform, preparation for students starting university, English-language teaching and updated teaching guidelines. The MoE Strategic Plan 2017-21 covers a number of broad goals for the education sector. Its central focus is ensuring inclusive, high-quality education and establishing a culture of innovation in the UAE. The strategy’s initiatives include developing assessment-based standards and clear classification mechanisms for higher education institutions, providing career training programmes for students and increasing the number of applications for PhD programmes. The UAE’s Advanced Skills Strategy, launched in 2018, is an MoE initiative focused on the development of future skills and the concept of lifelong learning. The initiative is targeted at school and university students, higher education graduates and experienced employees alike.

The MoE identified four types of skills that the strategy aims to strengthen to create a well-equipped and competitive workforce: basic skills, competencies, personality traits and specialised skills. “Diplomatic skills are not just needed by the government, but also by the private sector,” Bernardino León Gross, director-general of Emirates Diplomatic Academy, told OBG. “This is especially true of companies like Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Mubadala Investment Company, whose increasingly internationally focused portfolios require that their staff have the necessary repertoire of skills to engage in negotiations on an international level.” Educational reform designed to prepare students and graduates for the new digital age also lies at the heart of a number of other ongoing national strategies, including the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the UAE Strategy for AI.


In 2019 the illiteracy rate among Abu Dhabi’s population over the age of 10 was 6.5%, according to SCAD. That year 5.7% of males and 7.8% of females were illiterate. Among citizens, the illiteracy rate was 4.3%, while it was 7.1% for expatriates. Within the emirate’s young population – aged 15-24 – illiteracy was significantly higher among expatriates, at 4.4%, compared to 0.7% among Emiratis. In recent years the UAE government has launched a number of initiatives to encourage interest in reading as part of the National Plan for Reading, a 10-year programme that aims to make reading a daily activity and part of the country’s lifestyle by 2026. The plan has six key objectives: enhance the role of the family and society in changing reading behaviours; improve the standard of education to support reading; provide a supportive environment for reading at work; utilise the media to promote reading; build the infrastructure needed to encourage lifelong learning; and widen the reading content available in the UAE. The country celebrates the Month of Reading every March with a range of events designed to encourage literacy skills.

Measuring Performance

Abu Dhabi measures its performance against a number of international tests. This is particularly important as efforts to improve attainment levels in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are increasingly the focus of education authorities at both the emirate and federal level. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement assesses grade 4 and grade 8 students’ performance in the two subjects. In the most recent TIMSS, conducted in 2015, the UAE was 35th out of 57 participating countries for both grade 4 maths and science. The country ranked 19th and 22nd for grade 8 maths and science, respectively.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey administered by the OECD, which is taken by 15-year-old students and measures proficiency in maths, science and reading. Out of 79 countries, the UAE ranked 41st for maths, 43rd for science and 33rd for reading in 2019. Under UAE Vision 2021, the country aims to rank among the top 20 in PISA scores by 2021. In addition to international assessments, the MoE’s national Emirates Standardised Test (EmSAT) measures students’ knowledge of Arabic, English, maths and science. The EmSAT Achieve test, taken by grade-12 students, plays a central role in university admission and placement.

Sector players have called for a reform of assessment methods in order to improve the quality of teaching. “There is significant potential to expand the emirate’s lecture assessment and measurement programmes,” Ebrahim Al Hajri, vice-chancellor of Emirates College for Advanced Education, told OBG. “We need to ensure that students fully understand and absorb the information being taught, and do not simply memorise it and replicate it through written answers in an examination.”

New Schools

As part of efforts to increase the number of government schools, new institutions are being constructed under the Abu Dhabi Future School Programme. Construction is being led by the Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada), a government infrastructure development firm. In September 2019 construction began on six new institutions, at a cost of Dh1bn ($272m) in total. The schools are being built in the districts of Bani Yas, Al Rahba, Al Riyadh, Al Dhaher, Al Bahia and Shiab Al Ashkhar. In November 2019 construction also commenced on two kindergartens in Abu Dhabi City and two in Al Ain. The new facilities will accommodate 1400 pupils in total. In December 2019 Musanada completed the Mohamed bin Zayed School, an all-boys institution. The school covers 25,900 sq metres and will be able to accommodate 2550 pupils from grade 6-12 in its 85 classrooms. The project cost a total of Dh170m ($46.3m). Musanada also announced that other projects were progressing according to schedule, including the Jebel Hafeet School in Al Ain, which is estimated to cost Dh117.3m ($31.9m) and was around 58% complete as of end-2019.

Charter Schools

The emirate is trialling a new public-private partnership model in an effort to improve the standard of government-run schools. Known as charter schools, these new institutions are designed to enable public schools to benefit from private sector expertise. The schools are free and places are exclusively for Emirati pupils. ADEK announced the launch of the new system in June 2019, and it was implemented at the start of the 2019/20 school year. Part of the Education Partnership Schools programme, the system is initially being piloted at 13 government-run institutions in Abu Dhabi. Although the schools remain government owned, their management has been taken over by local private sector operators Aldar Academies, Bloom Education and Taaleem. The new school model includes a US-style curriculum, which has initially been rolled out for kindergarten and grades 1-5.


Abu Dhabi’s TVET segment is rapidly expanding as ACTVET seeks to ensure that graduates are equipped with the skills required by the modern job market and increase the number of Emiratis in skilled positions. To this end, ACTVET aims to double the number of Emiratis undertaking TVET programmes to help fill job shortages in health care and nursing, engineering, IT, programming and cybersecurity.

Another aspect of ACTVET’s role is creating an environment that encourages TVET institutions to innovate and contribute to the goals of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. Since its establishment in 2010, the centre has focused on community outreach, securing support from parents and building TVET colleges.

ACTVET is also responsible for overseeing the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI), Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), the Vocational Education Development Centre, Fatima College of Health Sciences and the Applied Technology High School. There were around 14,000 students enrolled in ACTVET schools and institutes as of 2020, and the organisation aims to raise its annual intake to 20,000. ADVETI is responsible for administering technical tertiary education establishments. The institute offers applied certificates and diplomas in a range of subjects including business, travel and tourism, design, industrial technology and engineering. ADVETI operates four institutes of science and technology in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Madinat Zayed and Shahama. Its courses are available to Emirati nationals or students with an Emirati mother once they have obtained a high school certificate or equivalent.

IAT operates applied technology high schools with separate facilities for boys and girls in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Madinat Zayed. IAT also administers Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, which offers technology-focused applied bachelor’s degrees and higher diploma programmes under a dual system of education and professional training. The institute serves to produce skilled engineers and specialists that can become part of Abu Dhabi’s industrial workforce. This is particularly important as the emirate seeks to upskill its workforce in technical qualifications such as nuclear power plant operations and aircraft maintenance. Fatima College, which is also operated by IAT, offers seven degree programmes in health science in fields such as nursing, pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy and medical imaging. The college aims to meet the UAE’s growing need for skilled health professionals. In February 2020 the college opened a new campus in Ajman, which has a capacity of more than 700 students and contains 16 educational halls, eight laboratories and an activities hall with science and technology equipment.

The UAE continues to improve its standing in global rankings of TVET performance. The country ranked 13th out of 136 countries for TVET in the 2019 Global Knowledge Index conducted by the UN Development Programme, up from 14th in 2018 and 24th in 2017.

After-School Classes

In a further effort to equip the emirate’s students for the modern job market, in January 2020 ADEK introduced after-school classes for more than 5600 pupils as part of its Rize Enrichment Programme. The initiative is focused on STEM subjects and art, and is designed to expose students to new disciplines such as coding and robotics, as well as develop their critical thinking skills and prepare them for university. The programme is aimed at students from grades 1-12 in all public and charter schools, and private schools in the Al Dhafra Region.


Schools in Abu Dhabi are increasingly investing in education technology (edtech) in order to improve the quality and accessibility of teaching. Institutions are incorporating software such as Microsoft 365 and Google Classroom to enable students to access teaching materials and share assignments remotely. Emirates National Schools (ENS), a private institute with campuses in Mohammed bin Zayed City, Abu Dhabi City and Al Ain, is also piloting an interactive distance-learning system. The programme uses cameras to record lessons and broadcast them in real time to other campuses. As technology plays a more crucial role in the classroom, steps are being taken to upskill teachers in digital literacy. For example, ENS requires that teachers obtain the International Computer Driving Licence, a global computer skills certification.

Distance Learning

In early 2020 institutions in Abu Dhabi and around the world were faced with the need to shift towards virtual learning amid the Covid-19 crisis, which caused schools and universities to close. The MoE declared that all institutions would shut for four weeks starting on March 8, 2020 and learning would instead take place at home. On March 30 the ministry announced that the closure would be extended until June 30, 2020, when the academic year ends. With many students preparing to take exams at the end of the year, the MoE confirmed that it was in the process of developing a new methodology for assessments in light of the circumstances. Many establishments have taken this as an opportunity to strengthen their distance-learning infrastructure, with assistance from ADEK in the weeks running up to the closure. The department rolled out a school pairing initiative, which partnered 33 schools with robust remote learning facilities with institutions in need of additional support, in order to enable resource sharing and knowledge transfer. In addition, ADEK held training sessions for 132 schools on best practices for virtual classrooms, and established an online platform with more than 1000 teaching materials and resources. “The rapid transition of the UAE’s education sector to e-learning is the result of more than a decade of investment by the government and local education institutions in the technology,” Abdullatif Al Shamsi, president and CEO of HCT, told OBG. “Over the longer term, we will find campuses being reduced in terms of physical space and administration being fully automated, with big data and AI being heavily used to customise subjects based on the specific needs of the students.”

To enhance the student e-life experience, HCT launched a range of e-learning initiatives aimed at fostering a digital community. According to the institution, 978,000 students and 65,000 faculty members logged onto Blackboard Learn between March 22 and April 22, with the number of hours spent on the online education platform exceeding 1.1m.

The outbreak of Covid-19 prompted several institutions to introduce distance-learning platforms for the first time. In March 2020 Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi announced that it had successfully launched a remote learning network in response to the closure announcement. The university is the first higher education establishment in the UAE to implement a virtual learning environment using the cloud.

Quality Outcomes

Abu Dhabi has faced challenges in raising the quality of its teaching, particularly in the tertiary segment. Overcoming this is vital to ensure that graduates are fit for the employment market. An endemic problem around the world, grade inflation is also a major issue in the UAE. The often high turnover of expatriate staff has led some universities in the emirate to employ staff that lack the necessary qualifications, resulting in a lower quality of teaching. In 2012 the NQA developed the National Qualifications Framework, known as QFE mirates, with the objective of enforcing consistency across the country’s qualification certification system. QFE mirates acts as a single reference point for all certificates, degrees and diplomas to be compared against, from secondary school to postgraduate level. School inspections are also regularly carried out by the MoE to monitor the standard of teaching. In addition, stakeholders in the sector are confident that the increased involvement of foreign players will boost the quality of the emirate’s education system. “Abu Dhabi’s education sector is actively seeking international accreditation for local institutions, and it is becoming an important key performance indicator from which to build its reputation,” Faisal Obeid Al Ayyan, vice-president of Rabdan Academy, told OBG.

Talent Retention

Retaining teaching staff is also a priority for the emirate as it seeks to improve the quality of its education sector. A growing number of expatriate teachers have moved from Abu Dhabi to East Asia, particularly China, as these countries generally offer higher salaries. Many teachers in the emirate are from the UK, where teaching salaries are around half that of Abu Dhabi. Although this makes the emirate an attractive location for expatriate teachers, salaries have fallen in recent years. Abu Dhabi is also experiencing a shortage of STEM teachers, as science graduates are increasingly choosing to follow higher-paying career paths. Moreover, teaching is not traditionally a popular profession for Emiratis, highlighting the importance of retaining high-quality expatriate staff. “As the education sector expands, our main focus should be attracting talented teachers, whether they are locals or expatriates. In the coming years, science and maths will be especially important, and we need to ensure that our teachers have the relevant expertise to spearhead this growing focus on STEM subjects,” Kenneth David Vedra, director general of ENS, told OBG.

Teacher Licensing

The UAE is in the process of introducing a new licensing framework for teachers, in order to standardise qualifications for Emirati and expatriate staff across the public and private sectors. The MoE began rolling out the Teaching Licensing System in the 2017/18 academic year, and aims for all teachers and education management staff to be licensed or enrolled in the licensing process by the end of 2020. Under the scheme, teachers must pass a national exam and have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent qualification.

Stem Degrees

The emirate is encouraging more school leavers to pursue a career in STEM in order to better align the graduate workforce with the emirate’s labour market needs. A study conducted by the MoE in 2018 found that engineering students were the most successful in finding employment opportunities in the UAE, and there was also high demand for graduates with qualifications in medicine, business and IT. While there are a significant number of university courses focused on areas such as business, management and the arts, ADEK has highlighted the need for more STEM pathways in the emirate’s universities. In the 2019/20 academic year new degree programmes were introduced in fields such as AI, energy and space science.

R&D Drive

As the higher education segment continues to expand, the emirate is taking steps to enlarge its R&D footprint. In November 2019 the Emirates Nuclear Technology Centre was launched at KU, with the aim of enhancing energy research capabilities. This comes alongside the construction of the first unit of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the Al Dhafra Region, the first facility of its kind in the Middle East, which is set to open in 2020 (see Energy chapter).

In addition, in October 2019 Abu Dhabi Global Market Academy, an institution for education and training that forms part of the emirate’s international financial centre, signed a deal with global innovation platform Plug and Play to establish a technology and innovation education centre in Abu Dhabi. The two entities will deliver training programmes to support the MENA region’s digital transformation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, placing Abu Dhabi at its centre.

As a sign of the growing importance of R&D, in November 2019 ADEK formed the ADRDA, the emirate’s research authority, to provide greater direction for the segment. The ADRDA aims to develop virtual research institutes, which will connect specialists from around the world to develop solutions to five key areas: biotechnology, food security, sustainability, AI, and high-performance computing and advanced materials.

The ADRDA plans to establish a policy centre and form partnerships with research funding institutes. The agency is also looking to build an innovation lab with a dedicated space for researchers to create prototypes. These advancements will support the UAE’s National Advanced Sciences Agenda 2031 and 2021 Advanced Science Strategy, which aim to utilise STEM research to find solutions to future challenges and advance the country’s economic development.

In January 2020 ADEK awarded over Dh40m ($10.9m) in competitive research funding to 54 proposals across multiple disciplines, in an effort to accelerate the growth of the emirate’s R&D ecosystem. The successful grants were selected from more than 320 proposals competing under two award programmes – the Abu Dhabi Award for Research Excellence and the Abu Dhabi Young Investigator Award. The successful proposals covered a range of sectors including health, food and agriculture, aerospace, education and social sciences, IT, material sciences and manufacturing, energy and environmental studies. Examples of successful proposals included an artificial brain component and space communication systems.


As Abu Dhabi moves towards a knowledge-based economy, education will play an even more important role in the emirate’s development, and the sector should continue to attract considerable investment from both the public and private sectors. Looking ahead, long-term growth opportunities are likely to be supported by the emirate’s vision of creating a new generation of graduates equipped with the skills required by the digital age. Indeed, edtech and STEM education are particularly ripe for development, with the former playing a crucial role as institutions move towards virtual learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.