Survey: Is Growing up in the UAE a Good Thing?

Is growing up in the UAE likely to be a help or a hindrance to success, long term? It is a question that generations of parents have grappled with over the decades. Here's what you currently think...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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WhichSchoolAdvisor's annual school survey.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Since we began the Happiness and Wellbeing Survey in 2014, the UAE has been seen as one of the most child friendly places on earth. That does not mean you do not worry about their long term success should this be their home during their entire childhood. In fact, a brunt assessment of the numbers suggest the level of concern has not changed dramatically since our inaugural survey.

Today, 39.9% of respondents, a minority but a significant one, say they are concerned their children will be less successful as adults if they stay in the UAE. This is a marginal increase on 2019 (38%), but a small decline on 2018 (41.37%) and 2014 (42.98%).

While the UAE has seen much improve in terms of happiness and wellbeing since we began the survey 8 years ago, concerns over the affect on children have remained remarkably stubborn. Given that, we thought we would list the 'fears' below, in order of importance, examining each in turn:

Fears and concerns

Issue Percentage Assessment
Children growing up in the UAE do not learn to be self dependent. 23.33% of respondents,  up from 22.45% in 2019 It is undoubtedly true that both parents, and their children, have more support than they would in many any other countries. This is of course as much, if not more a positive as a negative. Moreover, if parents are aware of the risks, they can mitigate it by not feeding dependence,  and encouraging self dependence. (Even if their offspring don't thank them for it!)
Universities, tertiary education is not up to the standard of that outside the country. 16.67%, up from 15.65% in 2019 Difficult to argue with objectively. The UAE is a long way down the QS Word University Rankings. However, this is a clear focus by Dubai in particular which is intent on setting itself up as a tertiary education hub. Mega developments such as that planned by Birmingham University should really shake things up. New visa rules around post study stay and employment could catalyse Dubai's plans.
Education in the UAE focuses too much on results, and fails to develop all round skills. 13.33%, falling from 14.63% in 2019 We are glad to see that this concern is falling as a percentage as many schools in the UAE  would vehemently dispute this. Where this is a genuine concern, please do speak to your school. You may well be surprised. If you are not convinced, we recommend you vote with your feet.
There are no jobs for the young expats/graduates in the UAE. 13.33%, up from 12.93% in 2019 A legitimate concern. It should rightfully and logically be easier for a young person to find a job in the country they grew up in. Visa issues alone significantly impede this, although changes are in process for UAE university leavers. An additional incentive to continue studies in the emirates..?
Children in the UAE do not develop a network they will need long term in their home country. 11.67%, down from 12.24% This can be true. A percentage of young expats however manage to develop a network of peers in two countires. This is, however, most often the case when studies are split between the UAE and home - either at University, or before - at post or pre-16. There is a question mark as to whether the UAE wants to continue to allow this brain (and financial) drain.
Children in the UAE do not need to be as competitive in the UAE as they do at home. 6.67% down from 7.48% in 2019 We're not surprised this concern is falling, as the UAE is increasingly a magnet for talent from aroud the world. That said, there is, in general, less talent fighting for a single opportunity. Again, this is as much a positive as a negative as for an amitious student there are many more opportunities to follow dreams and establish genuine interest in activities that could make the difference long term.
Academically schools in the UAE are not as strong as they are 'at home'. 6.67%, down from 7.14% I 2019 Again, we are glad to see this is falling. UAE schools are incereasingly being recogised globally as centres for excellence. 54% of respondents had cited weak schools as a concern at the time of the first WSA Happiness Survey in 2014, a sign of how fast schools in the UAE have improved.
Children are too protected, which leaves them unprepared. 6.67% up from 6.12% This is a variation of our the concern that children in the UAE do not learn to be self dependent. Again, if parents are aware of this issue, there is much they can go to mitigate this. 

Confidence in the UAE

Reasons why the majority of respondents are not concerned about their children growing up in the UAE have also remained largely consistent year on year. The biggest benefit, cited by 39% of respondents, is that children in the UAE develop an openness to the world and to other countries. This benefit dominates the responses as it did last year.

Welcome news to educators in the UAE will be the acknowledgement parents now give to the quality of the emirate's schools. 15.2% of respondents cite it as a key strength of the UAE, up significantly from 12.85% in 2018. More on education in a moment.

The other big riser in 2020 is the opportunities children in the UAE have to follow their interests. A total of 13.89% of respondents cited this answer as to why they believe in the UAE as a place to bring up children, up from 5.46% last year.

Covid-19 has of course had an impact on these results. Just 4.17% of respondents this year said they could afford more for their children in the UAE, so giving them a better chance.


Anyone moving to the UAE should not worry about the quality - although they may need still to be concerned about the cost - of education. Year on year parent perceptions regarding the quality of school education in the UAE compared to home countries has continued to rise. Today, just shy of two thirds of respondents say education in the UAE is Better than they could get at home, with 33.5% saying it is Much Better (see chart above).

To give some context for the improvement, 37% in total in 2014 thought education in the UAE was Better than they could get at home, and just 11.4% thought it was Much Better.

Schools are also, finally, inching forward in the battle to win parents around as to value and the level of school fees. Sentiment that the cost of education is either Worse or Much Worse that the cost in their own country has stuck stubbornly at around 77%. This year for the first time however it has fallen sharply, to 63%.

This is not a statistical anomaly. Competition for students has very clearly impacted the fees schools charge. Parents will be hoping this is the one thing that does not go back up once Covid-19 is in abeyance...

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