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

Adam El Rafey, a Year Eight pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School, is now a first year at the University of Wollongong in Dubai

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A 12-year-old pupil in Dubai is believed to be the youngest person to be accepted by a university in the UAE.

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

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

Ever since he was in Year Four, he has been attending both primary and secondary school and studies advanced physics, chemistry and biology with pupils 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 from us and then they accepted him into the programme
Soha El Halfawi, Adam’s mother

Among his many interests is education reform and he believes people should be assessed on their ability, 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'm super happy that the changes are being made on the subjects that I'm most passionate about. I'm so, so excited that things are finally happening,” he said.

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

“I'm really excited about everything,” Adam said of his university classes.

“It's been fun so far during my orientation and my first class and everyone has been amazing and really supportive.

“Being the youngest person to attend university in the UAE feels 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 overall amazing.”

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

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

“And a special thank you to my amazing school for personalising my learning journey all these years and for being so supportive the entire way through and allowing me to attend the university.”

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

When Adam was a speaker on a panel at the International Day of Education at Expo 2020 in Dubai, he shared the stage with Hussain Al Hammadi, UAE’s former minister of education.

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

“He asked him about his story, his educational journey and offered to support him," said Ms El Halfawi.

Adam El Rafey with his cohort at the University of Wollongong in Dubai. Photo: Adam El Rafey

“We were then contacted by the leaders at the Ministry of Education's dual credit programme and they were extremely supportive and encouraging.

“We had to submit all the relevant transcripts and reports that they required from us and then they accepted him into the programme.

“They also eliminated all the age barriers because Adam is the youngest person to be accepted in this programme as he clearly demonstrated the ability.”

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

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

“However, as parents, our primary concern is his well-being and his emotional health and that he has a childhood. He's still 12.”

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

“He is certainly the youngest child in the country to be enrolled at a university in the UAE,” she added.

She said that Adam had been assigned a student buddy who will mentor him and help him to navigate university life.

His university experience will not only be limited to academics but the overall 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 PM