Meet the 12-year-old believed to be the youngest university student in the UAE


A 12-year-old student in Dubai is said to be the youngest person to be accepted by a university in the United Arab Emirates.

Adam El Rafey is a freshman at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, the youngest to enroll in the school.

He will take a media course at university while completing his studies at the Jumeirah English Speaking School.

Since he was in fourth grade, he has been attending primary and secondary school and studying advanced physics, chemistry, and biology with students who are four to six years older than him.

We had to submit all the relevant transcripts and reports that the Ministry of Education required of us, and then they accepted him into the program.

Soha El Halfawi, Adam’s mother

Among his many interests is education reform and he believes that people should be assessed on their abilities, not their age.

As one of the youngest TEDx speakers in the world, he has spoken in front of thousands of people about the need to reform the traditional system.

“I am super happy that changes are being made on the subjects that I am most passionate about. I’m so, so excited for things to finally happen,” he said.

In December, he was named one of the world’s top 25 young pioneers and innovators by the Future Minds Network, an Australian organization.

“I’m really excited about everything,” Adam said of his college classes.

“It’s been fun so far in my orientation and my first class, and everyone has been great and really supportive.

“Being the youngest person to attend university in the UAE is amazing. Everyone was so supportive and wanted to network with me.

“I made a lot of new friends which I think would be really beneficial throughout my life. It was just amazing overall.

He will continue to study his 11th grade courses at school and will spend one day of the week at the university.

“Thank you University of Wollongong for accepting me and being so welcoming,” he said.

“And a special thank you to my amazing school for personalizing my learning journey all these years and supporting me through the process and getting me to college.”

Soha El Halfawi, Adam’s mother, said the Ministry of Education, Knowledge and Human Development Authority, University of Wollongong and Jumeirah English School worked together to get him into the university.

When Adam was a speaker on a panel during the International Day of Education at Expo 2020 in Dubai, he shared the stage with Hussain Al Hammadi, former Minister of Education of the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Al Hammadi listened to Adam on the panel and met with him afterwards.

“He asked her questions about her history, her educational background and offered to support him,” Ms El Halfawi said.

“We were then contacted by the leaders of the Department of Education’s dual credit program and they were extremely supportive and encouraging.

“We had to submit all the relevant transcripts and reports they asked for, and then they accepted him into the program.

“They have also eliminated all age barriers because Adam is the youngest person to be accepted into this program as he has clearly demonstrated his ability.”

For Ms El Halfawi, her son’s well-being and mental health as he entered university life was the first thing on her mind.

“We’re always going to help him follow his curiosity wherever it takes him,” she said.

“However, as parents, our main concern is his well-being and emotional health and that he has a childhood. He is still 12 years old.

Joice Priya, head of the Office of Institutional Research at the University of Wollongong, said Adam was the youngest student they had at the university.

“He is certainly the youngest child in the country to be enrolled in a university in the United Arab Emirates,” she added.

She said Adam has been assigned a student buddy who will advise him and help him navigate college life.

His university experience will not be limited to academics only, but to the whole student experience, such as activities and events that will give him the chance to interact with his peers and faculty members.

University of Wollongong in Dubai — in pictures

Updated: September 29, 2022, 1:05 p.m.


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