Mandatory Military Service Required of all Emirati Males


News services throughout the UAE are reporting the government has announced mandatory military service. All Emirati males between ages 18 and 30 will be required to serve in the military while it will be optional for women. Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the details of the plan on Twitter on Sunday, January 19.

All Emirati males who have finished secondary school will be required to serve for nine months while those without a high school diploma will serve for two years.  “The new law adds another layer to the national defense force to further protect our nation, secure its borders, and preserve its achievements,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted. “Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message.”

The reserve force will consist of retired soldiers and national service program graduates, he said.

The requiring of military service is not unusual and many countries including Russia, Switzerland, South Korea, Mexico and others have such laws. It is under consideration in other GCC countries such as Qatar and Kuwait. 

My blog has focused on education in the UAE and therefore my comments will address the possible affect of military service on higher education. I am of the belief that mandatory service will have a significant affect on the upcoming freshmen classes and especially male students who are completing their initial degree. The first question which came to my mind is; will military service be required before going to further education? I would assume not but nothing has been stated so far.

However, lets go with the assumption a student can enroll in a higher education institution before doing military service.  A fact to consider is the vast majority of male UAE Nationals are in Foundation programs trying to improve their skills so they can be accepted into a standard bachelors degree program. I wonder if these students who do not gain “direct entry” would then be required to do nine months of military first? Perhaps as a part of the military experience additional educational training would be provided in some method for these citizen soldiers. 

There are a number of questions educators will have and I would like to post your thoughts on this recent development. I look forward to your comments.

UAE Commitment to Education

Education is the hot topic in the UAE. I’ve noticed a visible increase of cabinet officials visiting schools throughout the country and speaking of their strategic importance.  The Arabic and English media are writing featured stories on education at all levels. In addition government studies on education with a focus on the status of K-12 has been produced by ADEC and KHDA. As I reported in earlier blogs there is massive increase of new private schools and students.  

Facts from KHDA

  • Dubai has 153 private schools
  • 6 private schools charge little or no tuition
  • The most expensive school charges 96,140AED
  • The average fee paid for a pupil to attend a Dubai school has risen to 17,172AED a year. Tuition fees are similar in Abu Dhabi
  • About 15% of parents now pay more than 35,000AED in tuition a year per child
  • Tuition fees in Dubai private schools increased 4.5% in 2012
  • Pupil numbers at private schools rose by 7.1% in 2012
  • Enrollment in Dubai private schools have doubled in 10 years, exceeding 225,000 pupils
  • 30,044 of these students are Emirati, which has doubled in10 years

Curriculum in schools vary; the UK education system is used in 35% of the schools followed by US at 22.9%, Indian at 15.7%, and UAE Ministry of Education at 8.5%.  However do not assume that a person’s nationality means they participate in their country’s curriculum. Indians consist of 35.2% of the student population, followed by UAE Nationals at 13.4%, Pakistan at 9.6%, UK at 4.9%, Americans at 2.4%, and the remaining 34.5% are from various parts of the world.  

As I written in the past, parents will spend money for their children’s education be it expat or Emirati. If their employer doesn’t assist they will find additional funds to get their children the best possible education.

ADEC recently conducted a survey of parents in Abu Dhabi of which 40,000 responded. One surprising fact came out; just over 47% stated their child takes private lessons in subjects such as Math, Science, English and Arabic. It is also reported that the cost of private tutoring ranges from 100-175AED per hour. It would seem to mean that children are not getting sufficient support in the classroom.  Also teachers are making extra income being tutors though their employer can reprimand or fire them, though it’s unlikely to occur.

 The last item is who teaches in private schools. There are 14,333 teachers of which 80% are female and 20% male. The percentage is less disproportionate in middle and secondary schools where 66% are female and 34% are males. The one figure that continues to be a major concern is the number of Emirati teachers. In Dubai private schools, 24 of the 14,333 teachers are UAE Nationals. Of the twenty-four, one is a male teacher.


  1. Parents will spend a significant portion of their income to get their child the best possible education.
  2. Parents are not convinced that public schools have the quality of education they desire. This is particular apparent in Dubai.
  3. Private schools will continue to increase as will the average tuition and fees though salaries are not keeping up with inflation.
  4. UAE higher education institutions can’t provide enough teachers to meet demand for years to come. Expat teachers will continue to be recruited and the turnover rate will remain high.
  5. UAE leadership is committed to education and working on ways to improve public K-12 but have seen more positive results in higher education.  The focus to improve student K-12 learning is implementation of new technology for “Smart Classrooms”. 
  6. Emiratization as a goal makes sense but difficult to attract Emirati’s to the education sector.

 UAE Nationals need to be more directly involved in K-12 and higher education as teachers and administrators. It is critical that students see fellow Emirati’s teaching and leading federal and public schools. What the government has yet to address is how to change the mindset of parents and extended families. They have yet made a convincing case their sons or daughters should go into the education profession instead of engineering, business, and finance. It will take a change in salary structure and a change in cultural thinking that shows the education field has prestige. 

Technology can’t solve this issue.   

PS: To all my friends and colleagues in the field of education have a good summer vacation.

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