The UAE\'s education sector has made remarkable progress and played a significant role in the growth of the nation. The sector made a humble beginning with a handful of students in its educational institutions and today the UAE has emerged as a hub of higher education and is second to none in the quality of education offered in its schools. The progress in this sector is in line with the vision of the late Shaikh Zayed, who said about the development of education: \"Youth is the real wealth of the nation. The discovery of oil provides the necessary finances to improve the education system and develop academically and technically qualified citizens — men and women — able to serve their country in its future progress.\" Today, the nation has three federal universities and there are about 120,000 students enrolled in various institutions across the country. Federal university education has been made free for Emiratis in the UAE. Article continues below To move away from its dependence on oil wealth and to create a knowledge economy, the UAE has opened its doors to several branch campuses and local private institutions with international links. The private sector addresses the needs of the large expatriate population in the UAE, enrolling primarily South Asians and other Arab nationals. In Dubai, several free zones have been established to facilitate international investment and economic growth. All of these institutions in the emirate are under the remit of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which grants higher permits and oversees the quality of programmes offered. ‘Remarkable\' progress \"No country would have achieved what we achieved in four decades since the birth of our country. This was possible due to the capable leadership we have as well as due to the efforts of the people that form our society — both Emiratis and expatriates,\" said Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director-general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). The progress in primary and secondary education has been equally remarkable. The curriculum followed by schools exposes pupils to a wide range of subjects and utilises the latest techniques in order to enhance pupil experience and prepare them for future challenges in their life. Illiteracy levels have significantly declined as a result of the government\'s focus on education. In Abu Dhabi, illiteracy has dropped from 23.4 per cent in 1995 to 8.3 per cent in 2009, said Mohammad Salem Al Daheri, executive director of School Operations at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec). The late President Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan once said: \"Nothing could delight me more than to see the woman taking up her distinctive position in society. Nothing should hinder her progress. Like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications.\" Since the beginning of the UAE Federation in 1971 and with the country\'s development, the role of women in the UAE has significantly grown. Numerous initiatives by the government have been made over the years to increase the role of women in society. The latest one being granting citizenship rights to the children of Emirati women who are married to non-nationals, when they attain the age of 18. \"The right of Emirati women to take part in the development of their society was endorsed when the federation was founded in 1971. Accomplishments \"Since the creation of the federation our leaders urged women to play a vital role in society,\" said Afra Al Basti, CEO of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. Illiteracy rates among Emirati women have dropped and today their accomplishments in all sectors of the economy are notable. \"Women are getting great support from the leadership. Women also have great chances to take on political roles and are intellectually, psychologically and socially competent to take on any position in any field,\" said Afra.