A freeze in fees and discounts for low-income families is the only hope for students who find the cost of university education beyond their reach. 
As tuition fees at the UAE’s higher institutions of learning see a spike each year, students find it increasingly challenging to keep up with university fees and other costs.
Students at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) have complained about high tuition fees and said university administrators should make every effort to keep students costs to a minimum and widen grants or aid scheme linking the students’ fees to family income. 
Hajar Al Safty, a senior student at the AUS, told Gulf News: “Honestly I wouldn’t be able to continue in the UAE, if I wasn’t granted financial aid. It would have been very hard because it is extremely expensive.”
Hajar, who majors in chemical engineering, said: “It is not only about what you pay per semester on courses, but also about a lot of stuff you have to purchase especially if you are an architecture or engineering student. The financial aid you get at AUS should be based on your parents’ income and amount and expenses paid throughout the year.”
Another AUS student said university education accounts for the lion’s share of their household budget.
“No, I don’t think that tuition fees at AUS are affordable for my family. I pay around Dh48,000 to Dh50,000 per semester. I am one of those students who had no opportunity for financial aid,” said Abdul Rahman Atef Elghassnawi, a senior student at AUS.
“The increase in fees means that university should provide students with their demands to satisfy their needs, whether in terms of courses or technology. However, I cannot really recognise it at AUS especially, in our laboratories as engineers.
“Universities should ensure students have enough information about their courses and that practical experience at university matches their expectations,” Elghassnawi, who major in computer engineering, added.
Due to a barrage of complaints from students, Abu Dhabi University (ADU) has frozen its fees this year. A senior university staff said their tuition freeze applies to the academic year 2013-2014.
“ADU believes in maintaining a balance between world-class education facilities and applied research on one hand, and on the other hand ensuring that academic ability and ambition are the main determinants to enrolment,” said Dr Nabeel Ebrahim, ADU chancellor.
Deserving students are also given discounts.
“The tuition freeze and discounts cement our ever-growing reputation as the national university of choice and inspire our vibrant multicultural student community to make a difference in every part of the globe,” he said.
However, Salma Al Wardani, a student at ADU, told Gulf News: “We had been suffering from high tuition fees for a long time. We have to pay about Dh2,400 per course, excluding services and activities fees, despite the fact that they are not beneficial for us.
(How much was it before it was raised to Dh2,400 per course? When was the last time ADU raised their fees)
“We are paying around Dh200 per semester for services and we do not know where they go. The university has frozen their tuition fees only after several complaints submitted by students,” said Salma, a business undergraduate at ADU.
Salma also pointed out that university grants and financial aids are granted to distinguished students with a cumulative grade point average of 3.5.
Additionally, a merit-based Masters Tuition Policy for ADU alumni was announced earlier this year making the university the first institution in the UAE to encourage its own students to pursue post-graduate studies. Graduates with a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or equivalent are entitled to a 25-per cent discount in tuition fees. Other ADU alumni who will pursue their postgraduate degrees at the university will be given a 20 per cent discount on their fees too.
“Our support for our alumni does not end when they graduate, because even after they attain their bachelor’s degrees we help empower them to further their studies,” Ebrahim added.
For a parent, their children’s university education in the UAE is a major investment of a lifetime.
“The best part in any university is its ability to offer financially-underprivileged students with education through a scholarship scheme that takes into consideration the financial status of their families,” said an Arab parent.
Hi cited how AUS, for example, allows families of students who score high in the secondary school but have limited income to avail considerable discounts. The student gets to keep the discount throughout his university years and may even increase if a student is able to maintain his good academic standing.
“Although the university is one of the most expensive higher education institutions in the country, the scholarship programme is quite efficient and had allowed hundreds of poor students to get admission and earn prestigious degrees. I know parents who just pay 15 per cent of the fees because their parents earn about Dh7,000. They were among the top students at the university throughout the years of study.” The AUD implement slightly different system by offering Shaikh Mohammad scholarship to the top students from selected schools in the emirate. This is also another useful programme.
The UAE is one of the top education destinations in the region,  with high demand for university slots. Studying in the UAE commands among the world’s highest education premiums as the combined living, school costs here are higher than Canada, Singapore, Japan, Germany, according to a study. The cost of studying in the UAE is equivalent to about half (51 per cent) of the gross domestic product (GDP) per person, or nearly $28,000 (Dh102,760) per year, making it the fourth most-expensive country for foreigners to study and live in, according to the latest research by HSBC .
Khalifa University has welcomed around 400 undergraduate and 35 graduate students for the new academic year 2013-2014.
The university is planning to hold its new student orientation for its university on September 3 and 4 respectively.
“We are proud of this year’s intake of students joining Khalifa University and of expanding our student body to over 1500 students,” said Dr Mohammad Al Mualla, senior vice-president for research and development at Khalifa University.
“We are also glad for the growing interest in our graduate programmes which are designed to fulfil the growing needs of the UAE market in alignment with the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision and its goal of diversifying industry sectors and expanding the knowledge economy,” he added.
Khalifa University has offered students international studies and internship opportunities with leading partners across the world with the beginning of the new academic year.
“Admission criteria at Khalifa University for undergraduate programmes handpick the top students as they undergo entrance examinations in addition to personal interviews. Students who need to develop additional skills in required subjects will be enrolled in a preparatory programme to ensure academic preparedness and acquire the knowledge necessary prior to studying their majors,” Al Mualla added.