Sheikh Khalifa's legacy: How the late President made UAE a global hub for education

He believed in the power of education to increase understanding, create opportunities and move society forward


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Mon 16 May 2022, 3:58 PM

Last updated: Mon 16 May 2022, 10:26 PM

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan who became President in 2004 after the death of Sheikh Zayed has played a pivotal role in making the UAE a regional and global hub for education.

Carrying forward the legacy Sheikh Zayed, one of Sheikh Khalifa’s top priorities was always education. Sheikh Zayed believed that education would be the cornerstone in helping create an inclusive and prosperous society in the UAE.

The commitment to education helped diversify the economy and prepared a new generation of young people ready to compete in the global marketplace. In 1975, the rate of adult literacy was 58 per cent among men and 38 per cent among women. Today, literacy rates for both genders are close to 95 per cent.

Under Sheikh Khalifa’s leadership, new initiatives have been launched at all levels of education. A key area of focus has been transforming K-to-12 programmes to ensure that UAE students are fully prepared to attend universities around the world and compete in the global marketplace.

The UAE also reviewed and enhanced its national curriculum and Emirati textbooks to meet international standards for peace and tolerance in school education, according to research organisation IMPACT-se.

All these initiatives saw the UAE the destination of choice for students the best in the world of education.

Some of the world’s best universities soon rushed to set up base in the country and established programmes across different disciplines, attracting talented students from the Arab world and globally to the UAE.

In 2020, young people surveyed throughout the Arab world identified the UAE as the top country to live in and to emulate for the ninth year running, reflecting the opportunities available to youth entering the workforce.


Growth of higher education

Sheikh Khalifa believed in the power of higher education to increase understanding, create opportunities and move society forward.

With scores of top universities such as New York University and Sorbonne University opening campuses in the UAE, the country soon took on the mantle of a regional hub for education.

Not just that, local institutions have also progressed in international rankings under this progressive set-up. A case in point is the Khalifa University which was ranked 446th in the QS World University Rankings. In 2022, it had progressed to 183rd on the rankings.

The UAE has also revised its visa scheme to attract students from across the world to come and make the country their second home.

Under policy reforms issued in 2021, the UAE said it would offer longer-term residence visas to foreign students pursuing education in the country.

In the same vein, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai also said foreign students would be permitted to bring relatives with them to the country “whenever they have the financial means” to do so.

The UAE Cabinet also issued directives encouraging more students to make the country their chosen destination for undergraduate and postgraduate courses —and also provided them with incentives to lay down roots in the country long after their academic journey comes to an end.

The number of international degree-seeking students in the UAE saw a spike from 48,653 in 2011 to 77,463 in 2016, according to data from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Most of these students were pursuing distance-learning through online courses.

The UAE also has a strong policy initiative in also supporting education for students of determination by offering them an inclusive learning experience to help them integrate into society and.

Khalifa Award for Education

Another major initiative in the educational field is the Khalifa Award for Education founded by the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The award aims to create an environment to help educators unleash their innovative capabilities, while recognising their outstanding educational skills. The award, founded under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa, is set to thrive under the vision of the new President, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the continuous guidance by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and the Chairman of the Council of Trustees of the Khalifa Award for Education.

The award involves all categories of those working in the educational field both within the UAE and in the wider Arab world. These include categories at the local level: general education; education for people of determination; creating knowledge networks; new media and education; education and the sustainable environment; and education and community service.

The award’s main objective is to motivate and promote the development of the education sector within the UAE, and in the Arab world at large.

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