The opening of Zayed University in 1998 was a clear sign to the country's young women that they would have an active role in the UAE's future.
The founding of the country's only institute for women was symbolic of the responsibility being placed on their shoulders.
And 13 years later, Zayed University remains one of the country's fastest-growing institutions among two other federal universities and about 90 private colleges.
The university opened with about 1,200 students at its two campuses, which were small, converted schools next to Dubai International Airport and on Delma Street in Abu Dhabi.
Now there are 3,300 women at its 6,000-capacity Abu Dhabi campus in Khalifa City and 3,300 at its Dubai International Academic City campus, which is at capacity.
Four years ago the university opened its doors to men in Abu Dhabi, and last year in Dubai. It now has 1,000 male students, 700 in the capital and 300 in Dubai. And it has continued to grow - currently by about 20 per cent a year.
Its current vice chancellor, Dr Sulaiman Al Jassim, joined in 2006 after 16 years at the Higher Colleges of Technology, and has helped to guide the country's higher education landscape through its development. Zayed University was vital, he said, in giving students the chance to study for a degree in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which until launch, was available only at UAE University.
Dr B Dell Felder, the university's provost for its first four years, said this made a significant difference, especially for women. "Many parents still didn't want to send their daughters away to Al Ain," she said.
"The girls wanted to study in the cities they lived in and there was clearly a need for this. The institutions were also in the centres of industry, where the jobs were."
That was especially so because far more girls completed high school - three times as many as boys, a ratio that persists even now, Dr Al Jassim said.
"Men have more opportunities, like jobs in the police, military, or getting scholarships to study abroad, but the majority of women prefer to continue their higher education," he said.
"Opening Zayed University was about encouraging women to participate in the economic and social development of the country and prepare them to be a part of the UAE workforce."
Today about 78 per cent of its graduates are employed within six months of leaving the university.
Dr Felder said the girls in the first graduating class were ambitious, no less so than today.
"One of the class went immediately to the US to do a master's degree, came back to a position in government and is now studying for a PhD," Dr Felder said. "She's not alone in the fact that she was inspired to do something for her country with her education."
One of the most rewarding parts of the job, she said, was watching the shy, unconfident girls blossom.
"Looking at a young girl who could barely look at you or speak out change into a young woman who knew what she wanted, with the confidence that she could have it, was so rewarding," she says.
Dr Felder left California State University for the role. "The whole idea of providing educational opportunities for women in that part of the world was very interesting to me. "Sheikh Nahyan [bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research] had said he wanted the girls to be educated so they could take positions in business and government and I was very impressed with his foresightedness."
Her successor, Dr Larry Wilson, who was provost from 2002 to 2007 and returned to the role this year, also acted as a consultant for the opening in 1998.
"The first two or three classes of students saw this as a chance for them to study in a university in a country where its leaders thought it was so important that they have this opportunity, showing them the potential they have," he said. "It did a lot to boost the morale of women in the country and in the region."
This article has been corrected since original publication. Zayed University opened in 1998, not 1988 as originally stated.