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Why Study in the Middle East? Six Destinations to Consider

Perhaps no other place on the planet is as mysterious and misunderstood as the Middle East. This complex yet culturally rich region holds a prominent place in the history books, and promises to remain significant in the future. Let’s take a look at some popular Middle Eastern study abroad destinations, along with what you should know about studying in this powerful part of the world.

Jun 26, 2015
  • Study Abroad
Why Study in the Middle East? Six Destinations to Consider
Dubai Downtown at dusk. United Arab Emirates

Perhaps no other place on the planet is as mysterious and misunderstood as the Middle East. This complex yet culturally rich region holds a prominent place in the history books, and promises to remain significant in the future. Students in search of a new and first-hand perspective on the Middle East will find many opportunities awaiting them. Let’s take a look at some popular Middle Eastern study abroad destinations, along with what you should know about studying in this powerful part of the world.

Top 6 Study Destinations in the Middle East

Wondering where to begin when it comes to identifying a study abroad destination in the Middle East? You’re not alone. The region is incredibly diverse, so honing in on a particular country or city can be a challenge. Here are six contenders to get your search started.

1. Lebanon

Mount, snow n town Bcharre in Quadisha valley in Lebanon

Despite its small size, Lebanon’s breathtaking geography, rich history, and diversity of cultures make it a fascinating place for overseas students.

And while political uncertainty does trouble its surrounding nations, many parts of Lebanon are considered safe to visit. In fact, Beirut -- the country’s capital and home to the prestigious American University of Beirut, which took second-place honors in the QS rankings of Arab universities -- is a very safe city with low crime rates. In fact, in awarding it the honor of being the world's #1 place to go in 2009, the New York Times declared Beirut to be “poised to reclaim its title as the Paris of the Middle East.”

If you want to learn Arabic, you're headed to the right place, but Lebanon is also home to many French and English speakers which is an added draw for many international students. Lebanon's highly renowned higher education is notably due to institutions such as the Middle East University, ESA Business School, USEK, or the Lebanese American University.

Read more about studying in Lebanon.

2. Israel

Wide view at Bahai Temple, German Colony and Haifa port

Not yet even 70 years old, Israel continues to evolve at a startling pace -- just one of the reasons why it's a truly extraordinary place to live and learn. Dubbed “the start-up nation,” for its innovative and entrepreneurial spirit -- particularly in the high-tech sector -- Israel is predicted to become a major biotech hub in the imminent future. With this starry status, it’s no surprise that Israel shines in science and technology subjects. However, its other academic offerings are also equally impressive. In fact, four of Israel’s eight universities earned top 300 status in the QS World University Rankings for 2015, with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem coming in at a respectable 138th.

Major Israeli cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are known for their vibrant culture and cosmopolitan spirit. And while some people mistakenly believe that you have to know Hebrew to study in Israel, most Israelis speak English, and there are also plenty of English-taught programs.

If you do choose Israel, you’ll be in good company: its population is the second most educated in the world. Institutions like the Open University of Israel contribute to the high quality of the Israeli education system.

Read more about studying in Israel.

3. Saudi Arabia

RIYADH - DECEMBER 22: Kingdom tower on December 22, 2009 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Kingdom tower is a business and convention center, shoping mall and one of the main landmarks of Riyadh city

No discussion of Middle Eastern higher education is complete without mention of Saudi Arabia’s world-class offerings. Home to 12 of the top 100 institutions in the Arab Region, according to QS University Rankings, it also claims three of the top five spots: King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals earns the top honor, while King Saud University and King Abdulaziz University claim third and fourth place, respectively.

Laying claim to roughly 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is committed to higher education, which is demonstrated by the government’s continual investment in the academic sector. And while the country offers programs in all areas, it’s especially well known when it comes to energy, oil, and gas engineering degree programs. Those looking for jobs in this industry, meanwhile, will also find unparalleled prospects here.

Arab students flock here, but Saudi Arabia is also gaining traction with international students from around the globe. In addition to its quickly growing educational system, the country also offers everything from distinctive culture to amazing weather to some of the Middle East’s most stunning ancient archeological sites.

One note: Saudi universities uphold Islamic laws so it’s essential for visiting students to be aware and respectful.

Read more about studying in Saudi Arabia.

4. Oman

One of the region’s most developed countries, Oman is small yet mighty thanks to its dynamic diversity, strong infrastructure, and welcoming people. With influences from both India and Eastern Africa, Oman is known for its unique culture, including everything from renowned cuisine to more than 100 traditional dances.

Home to more than 20 universities, Oman is recognized for its commitment to higher education. Four of its universities earn spots in the QS Rankings for the Arab region, including Sultan Qaboos University -- which took the 16th spot.

While Oman does adhere to Islamic tradition in terms of everything from religious customs to gender norms, its people are celebrated for their hospitality. In fact, many international students opt for “homestay” living arrangements with local families for an eye-opening, immersive experience. And while Oman’s official language is Arabic, English is also widely spoken.

Read more about studying in Oman.

5. Qatar

Skyline of the Doha

Declared by the World Bank to be one of the world’s richest countries by GDP, Qatar is committed to the development and globalization of its higher education system. An 11th place ranking in the QS University Rankings: Arab Region for Qatar University is testament to the significant funds the government earmarks for the development and internationalization of its higher education system. In fact, in 2009, the Qatar Foundation for Science, Education and Community Development established the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) to drive academic innovation.

One noteworthy initiative of the Higher Supreme Council’s education reforms? “Education City,” a cluster of branch campuses operated by international institutions, including many leading U.S. universities such as Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon, as well as top European business schools including University College London (ULC) and HEC Paris School of Management.

Still have lingering concerns about unrest in this region? This may set those fears to rest: Qatar’s achieves high rankings in “State of Peace,” on the Institute for Economics & Peace’s “Global Peace Index.”

Read more about studying in Qatar.

6. The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

DUBAI, UAE - OKTOBER 10: Modern buildings in Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE. In the city of artificial channel length of 3 kilometers along the Persian Gulf, taken on 10 Oktober 2014 in Dubai.

The UAE has experienced meteoric growth since oil was discovered in the region more than half a century ago. Since then, it has focused on growth in everything from construction and tourism to education. With nine institutions earning spots in the QS rankings for the Arab region in 2015 -- including sixth place United Arab Emirates University -- it’s clear that the UAE is formidable when it comes to education. In addition to its native universities, the UAE is also home to a large number of top-ranked branch campuses.

If you’re looking for diversity, look no further. Only 20 percent of the country’s population is Emiratis; the rest come from all over the world. And regardless of their native tongue, the majority speak English. If you are interested in highly renowned courses provided for working professionals, contact directly some of the best institutions like Stafford Associates and Zeus Consulting.

Read more about studying in the UAE.

While the Middle East may not immediately come to mind when you contemplate study abroad options, it's actually full of many enticing educational opportunities for those willing to look beyond the usual suspects. But the allures aren’t just academic. From warm, sunny climates to thousands of years worth of history to some of the world's most magnificent scenery and attractions, the Middle East also promises personal enrichment and a life-changing experience.

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.