Among the 57 higher education institutions in Dubai, there are three colleges designed to deliver vocational qualifications, with their students accounting for 2% of all students studying in Dubai.


At the two higher colleges of technology (HCTs), called Dubai Men’s College (DMC) and Dubai Women’s College (DWC), greater emphasis is placed on vocational skills and the practical application of knowledge. The two Dubai colleges are part of a UAE-wide public network of 17 HCTs with 20,000 students enrolled. Students who meet the HCT entry requirements can study for diplomas or bachelors of applied science in media, business administration, computer and information science, engineering technology and health services. Foundation courses are offered to enable students to meet the entry requirements for these courses if their school qualifications are insufficient.

According to a report from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), a government body tasked with regulating private schools and universities located in the emirate’s free zones, in 2012, 20% of Emirati boys leave high school before grade 12 and so the foundation course is particularly important. There is some difference between the options available to men and women. For instance, the men’s health service degree covers emergency medical services, while the women’s college offers medical imaging or pharmacy. DMC offers a range of engineering courses in airframe, aero engines and avionics, plus civil, electrical and mechanical engineering degrees. DWC, meanwhile, offers a range of education courses, mainly preparing students to work in kindergartens and primary schools.

The two colleges were created in 1989, and in 2013 had 5000 students enrolled between them. The most recent statistics, for 2012/13, show that 576 men and 766 women completed qualifications there. Across the UAE as a whole, 5370 students completed courses of which 2635 left with a business qualification. Although 3314 women graduated in 2012/13 compared with 2056 men, employment rates for men have been higher. The last published figures were for 2011/12 when 90% of the 1655 male graduates were employed compared to 51% of the 2801 female graduates.


The National Institute of Vocational Education (NIVE) was established in 2006 and had 126 students enrolled in 2013: 83% were Emirati and the remaining 17% were foreign students. The centre offers two higher diplomas in business, which students take for two years. One of these is in jewellery business development, catering for a significant sector of the economy as Dubai serves as one of the world’s centres for gold imports and exports as well as jewellery retail. Two courses focusing on the country’s thriving construction sector are also offered as two-year diplomas in building and surveying, and draughtsmanship. There is a two-year diploma in business focusing on customer service and another specialising in international business. The college also offers an IT diploma. Courses cost between Dh20,000 ($5444) and Dh30,000 ($8166) a year. The latest data from KHDA shows that four people graduated from NIVE in 2014.


For education expert Sajida Shroff, CEO of Altamont Group, the difficulties with vocational education in Dubai is with perceptions regarding their value. “There is a huge gap in vocational skills, but as vocational training is not considered prestigious compared to having a university degree, it is not as appealing,” Shroff said. “There are programmes available but they are not even close to enrolment capacity and they are not getting the students that they are looking for. Additionally, we do see a lack of connectivity between employer needs and programme offerings, further diluting student interest,” Shroff added.

Instead, institutions look to make vocational training region specific and within cultural context, “so that perception issues are offset and employer needs are met. This will enable significant growth in the regional vocational education sector alongside higher education and K-12,” Shroff explained to OBG.