Universities in the UAE will be allowed to set their own entry requirements for pupils studying at publicly run schools under changes announced by the Ministry of Education on Thursday.
The Emirates Standardised Test, known as Emsat, will no longer be a mandatory requirement for admission to the country’s higher education institutions.
The new rules will come into effect at the start of the next academic year in September.
Universities that choose to continue to use Emsat will have the freedom to set the minimum score needed by students.
They will have the option of relying on final exams approved by the ministry or requesting other internationally approved assessments such as A levels or the International Baccalaureate.
Pupils applying to universities outside the Emirates are not required to sit the Emsat test.
“Universities in the UAE can now choose to use Emsat or other approved tests. The universities can now set their own minimum scores in Emsat for admission criteria,” said Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of Education.
“Universities have until the end of this February to inform the ministry about the admission requirements.”
What is Emsat?
More than 1 million Emsat tests have been taken since its introduction in the 2017-18 academic year.
The Emsat is a computer-based test designed to measure skills independently of the curriculum.
It was mandatory for Emiratis in grade 12 in public and private schools, as well as non-Emiratis studying in private schools affiliated with the Ministry of Education curriculum.
The examinations cover English, Arabic, mathematics, and physics.
Why is the test no longer mandatory?
The decision was made after discussions with universities, parents, and pupils.
“It is part of the ongoing efforts to develop the national education system. The move followed multiple consultations with an aim to serve the interests of students and their academic future,” the minister said.
“Six years ago, the UAE had three universities in the list of best 1,000 global universities and now we have 11. The level of universities has developed rapidly.”
The minister said Emsat remained an effective tool for measuring the skills and capabilities of prospective university students.
The debate over the difficulty of examinations
In December 2020, the Federal National Council heard that pupils with talent in many other subjects found Emsat difficult.
FNC member Adnan Al Hammadi said at the time the number of Emirati pupils admitted to UAE universities had dropped from 16,000 in 2017 to 12,000 in 2019, with the poor scores on tests playing a role in the fall.
Concerns about Emsat were also raised by FNC member Sabreen Al Yamahi, who said she knew of a pupil who scored high in several subjects but could not pass the English test.
She said many bright young Emiratis were “sitting at home not able to enroll in university because of this exam”.
Move is welcomed
Shamsa Al Taei, who has worked in the UAE’s education sector for more than 20 years, said the Emsat test proved a burden for learners.
“It was a huge load on students and universities. It was hard getting dates to sit for the tests,” said Ms Al Taei.
She said the decision would broaden access to other qualifications and proficiency tests.
“It won’t have to be that one exam and it can depend on the ability of the student,” she said.
“It is more flexible for students and colleges.”
Abeer Al Matrooshi’s daughters had to sit Emsat exams to gain admission to Zayed University.
She said her daughters had already completed other exams and deemed the additional test unnecessary.
The registration fee for grade 12 students is Dh309 for the four core subjects package, Arabic, English, mathematics, and physics.
Entrants who wish to repeat any of the above subjects or take an additional test in one of biology, chemistry, or computer science must pay another Dh105.
Emiratis and sons of female Emiratis are exempt from registration fees for the subjects of the four core subjects packages for the first time.