Although most parents are willing to pay more to send their kid to the best primary or secondary school, recent studies have shown that a strong majority are not prepared when it comes time for university. A report from HSBC published in 2014, found that a shocking 67 percent of parents in the UAE simply do not have adequate funds to meet the aspirations they have for their children’s higher education.

The study compared the average cost of university fees combined with living expenses across sixteen countries around the world. It found the UAE to be the sixth most expensive globally at $30,472, coming ahead of Canada ($29,947) and France ($16,777).

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Higher education in the UAE is too expensive for many

There’s no doubt that it’s getting more expensive to attend university in all corners of the globe, however, in the UAE tuition levels are increasing rather rapidly. For example, annual average fees for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) students at Ajman’s Gulf Medical University increased from AED 75,000 to AED 85,000 between 2009 and 2010, only to rise again by 10 percent to reach AED 95,000 in 2011. And in 2015 it cost AED 120,000 per year to study this discipline.

Higher education fees at other universities show a similar trend too. Based on fee data from 2015, a Master’s in Public Accounting at UAE University would cost you AED 100,000 per year. Interestingly, pursuing an MBA would cost you AED 89,750 per year at UAE University’s Al-Ain campus, AED 125,000 at the Dubai campus, and AED 133,350 in Abu Dhabi. If you have your sights set on getting an Executive MBA from a branch of a top global institution such as London Business School, a 20 month program would set you back AED 382,191.

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How can parents be prepared for university fees?

Personal finance experts recommend starting a college fund for your children as early as possible, contributing more with every year that passes. If you have young children and are currently not receiving any education allowance from your company, it would be wise to keep up-to-date with your HR department to see if you qualify to receive this benefit. For those looking to relocate to the UAE, it’s incredibly important to negotiate this allowance into your employment agreement, as it will make all the difference in your ability to save for university in the long run.

Unfortunately, scholarships in the UAE are hard to come by for expats, while it’s more realistic for universities in other parts of the world to offer various funds to international students that are eligible. Many expat families hope to send their children to the US or UK for university as they see the quality of education and value for money to be higher there. Do keep in mind that the total cost could be much higher in this situation as they will have to pay for room and board and other living costs in addition to tuition.

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Do banks finance higher education in the UAE?

For those parents with limited funds who simply do not have enough to fully cover such expenses, there are a variety of education loans that UAE banks offer, some of which are actually quite flexible. Union National Bank can finance tuition up to AED 200,000 over the course of one year. The downside is that the finance and interest on these loans can sometimes be quite high which is higher than most personal loans for expats offered in the country.