The United Arab Emirates launches its first clinical psychology graduate program, taught in English

This program is the first psychology graduate program of any specialty in the UAE.

By Amber Haque, PhD

This program is the first psychology graduate program of any specialty in the UAEIn spring 2011, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain launched a clinical psychology Master of Science program. This is the first graduate psychology program in UAE, and it is taught in English. The push to develop new master’s programs stemmed from the university’s new strategic plan, which among other things aspires to develop postgraduate programs at UAEU and lay foundation for academic research in the country. UAEU is the flagship university of the country and is located in Al Ain, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Dubai. The university has a student body of more than 12,000 and boasts a variety of educational and training programs.

Although UAE is an Arab country, a majority of the community consists of expatriates, and English is widely spoken. Classes are taught in Arabic within the national schools, but in most schools the science subjects are now taught in English. At UAEU in particular, all programs are taught in English and there is a persistent effort to have all university programs eventually accredited by international agencies. The overall curriculum of most programs is based on the American system of education, and a majority of the faculty has been trained in the west.

The main purpose of the clinical psychology graduate program is to provide advanced training to bachelor level psychologists, and at the same time protect patients from unqualified practitioners. Until 2012, bachelor level psychologists and professionals from psychology-related areas could offer clinical psychology services in a variety of settings, but new regulations on health care practices are taking shape, and licensing requirements are becoming mandatory. The new graduate program prepares students to apply for a master’s level clinical psychology license in the UAE. Further information on the new health care regulations can be found in the May 2012 issue of The UAE Psychologist (PDF, 2.62MB).

Requirements of the new program include 39 credit hours of study with six semester hours of supervised practicum experience in an approved mental health or rehabilitation setting. The program length is two years for full-time students, and a master’s thesis is optional (in lieu of practicum II) since the program’s focus is more practice-oriented. The criteria for admissions includes eight undergraduate level courses in psychology with a GPA of 3.0 and a sample of English writing and English language proficiency score via IELTS or TOEFL exams. While all undergraduate programs at UAEU are free of charge and intended for UAE citizens, its master's programs are tuition-based and open to all nationalities.

Applicants must also have graduated from an accredited institution. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHSR) in UAE issues an equivalency letter for graduates of foreign universities. If the degree-granting institution is in the UAE, the institution must also be accredited by the UAE Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). This accreditation requirement raises a number of issues regarding applicant eligibility. There are close to 100 universities in UAE, and the majority are in Dubai and registered by the Dubai Government Knowledge and Human Development Authority. Since registration with the Dubai government is insufficient to meet accreditation criteria, graduates from most campuses in Dubai are ineligible to apply for admission at UAEU. Some campuses in Dubai are extensions of reputable universities in the west, but since they are not accredited by CAA, their graduates cannot attend UAEU.

One of the main challenges of this program is the intense English-language requirements. Another is that UAE has few undergraduate psychology programs, making the applicant pool quite small. Psychology is a relatively new profession in the region, so there are few jobs for clinical psychologists in the public sector. While there is a growing need for such services, the public remains largely unaware of what clinical psychologists do and how these services can benefit society. In private practice, on the other hand, the profession seems to be vibrant as there are dozens of practitioners in Dubai alone. We are confident that as the need and awareness of clinical psychology services grow, there will be an increased demand for graduates of this program.

For details on this program, please visit FHSS online. You can also read about the programs and issues related to psychology in the UAE (PDF, 3.92MB)