This is the first venture of its kind outside of France for the Sorbonne, an institution dating back to 1253 CE and whose landmark building in the heart of Paris was commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635.

Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's crown prince, said on Sunday: "This confirms the advance in relations between the Emirates and France to the cultural dimension."

De Robien and Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates higher education minister, signed the accord.

Abu Dhabi will invest $20 million-$30 million (16 million to 25 million euros) in setting up the university, according to a source close to the project who asked not to be identified.

Sorbonne Abu Dhabi will open in October, initially to 200 students. Up to 1500 students are expected in three years.

Its curriculum will be secular and liberal arts-oriented with a focus on French language, history, geography, literature and philosophy.

Costly degree

Students will pay an average of $20,000 (16,600 euros) per academic year for the privilege of a Paris-Sorbonne degree, added the source.

De Robien said: "I am very confident in this partnership, which is the culmination of a long process."

The seven-emirate federation of the UAE, which includes Dubai, is one of the most liberal among the conservative Muslim countries of the Gulf region.