E-MBAs in the Middle East
The Middle East is fast becoming a key part of top business school recruitment strategies. We look at what this region has to offer Executive MBAs.
Rich in oil and natural gas, home to man-made beaches and curious architecture – the Middle East is a unique region culturally, historically and physically. With somewhat unclear boundaries, this region, situated between the Far East and the Near East, encompasses the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a federation of seven states in the South East of the Persian Gulf.
Fast becoming known for its business prowess, investment banking opportunities and entrepreneurial spirit, the UAE has recorded one of the highest population growth rates in the world over the past two decades. Figures from the UAE Ministry of Economy show the population in 2008 was projected to grow by 6.12% to nearly 4.76 million, up from 4.48 million in 2007. That growth rate is set to continue with an estimated increase of 6.31% to a population of 5.06 million by the end of 2009.
A growing market
The largest two of the seven emirates – Abu Dhabi and Dubai – are home to the bulk of nearly four million expatriates making the Middle East home. (In 2008, there was an estimated 890,000 UAE nationals compared with 3.8 million expats in the Middle East. In 2009, those numbers are expected to increase to 920,000 and 4.1 million respectively). They are also becoming key business school recruitment spots. Over the last five years, several European and US schools have opened campuses in the Middle East including London Business School, Edinburgh Business School, Hult International Business School, and University of Strathclyde Business School. Cass Business School in London launched its Executive MBA program in a modular format in Dubai in 2007, in partnership with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). In the program’s second year, there was a 35% increase in cohort size.
Richard Gillingwater, Dean of Cass Business School, said the Middle East is a growth region for skills, talent and education, particularly in the light of the financial crisis. “This (crisis) will cause an influx of labour and talent in the Gulf region, but it is a great opportunity. Until now the scarcity of skilled labour was a major drag on development, but this has now eased. As with any emerging market, the need and demand for MBAs is set to grow in line with the development of the region. Dubai will therefore form an important part of our recruitment strategy.”
Dubai, the Middle East’s business and commercial hub, is expected to have a population of 1.7 million by the end of 2009. In 2008, the local population is forecast to grow by 3.2 per cent against 6.8 per cent for the expatriates while growth in natives next year is projected at 3.4 per cent and in the foreign population at nearly 6.9 per cent. Dubai had the largest ratio of expatriates in 2007.
For many schools, Dubai has become a key strategic market for Executive MBA recruiting and the trend is unlikely to change over the next decade. Arnold Longboy, Director of Student Recruitment – Europe at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in London said Dubai is investing heavily in its infrastructure and built environment. “These projects create new job opportunities in the region and will continue to attract companies and investors to Dubai over the next five to ten years. We expect that the demand for Executive MBA programs from this growing workforce of managers will continue to increase over the coming years.”
Over recent years, many Middle Eastern candidates have enrolled in Executive MBA programs in the western world. Since Chicago Booth Business School opened their European campus in 1994, the school has consistently enrolled students from the United Arab Emirates. However, Longboy said it was in 2005 when they opened their London campus that the number of applicants increased tremendously. “It was just about that time as well when we began conducting regular information presentations in Dubai and other parts of the region. I think the business ties between London and Dubai continue to grow in importance creating one of the drivers for the interest in our London based program,” he said.
Ziad Azzam, an EMBA student of Chicago Booth Business School, has a career that spans 11 years with experience in investment banking and corporate advisory services across the Middle East. Azzam has worked in sectors encompassing logistics, transportation, financial services, retail, telecommunication and real estate.
“All I have done up till now covers half the distance I need to reach my ultimate career goal,” he said. “Having mentioned that, I have come to recognize that I need to broaden my network from regional to international, gain international experiences, sharpen my leadership skills and my ability to shape situations with my increased responsibilities, and hone my managerial skills at the enterprise level, given that most of it was at the transactional level. After exploring and studying all the options currently on hand from a personal development and time perspective, I decided enrolling in an Executive MBA program was the right path for me.”
Azzam said he’s aware of many business schools targeting the region and the EMBA qualification becoming more popular. “There’s a huge potential for EMBA growth here (in the Middle East) but most of the candidates are self-financed because there is still a limited awareness from employers.”
UAE students are a popular target group for many business schools but not just because they’re part of a relatively untapped region. Arnold Longboy says UAE students offer unique insights into Middle Eastern business culture and their fellow EMBA students can learn from their experiences and recommendations. “Their contribution to the diversity of the EMBA cohort is invaluable. What’s also interesting is the insight they offer of working in an environment which continues to produce double digit growth.”
Richard Gillingwater makes a similar comment: “Our Emirati students make a very important contribution to the overall learning experience in class, bringing real work experience and practical examples of how the development, changes and business challenges with the UAE are shaping up,” he said. “We also encourage greater networking opportunities and cross-fertilisation of knowledge and ideas between our executives on the Dubai and London programs through electives in both London and Dubai so the input of UAE nationals on our EMBA programs has a greater impact across the Cass MBA community.”
As more and more business schools include the Middle East in their strategic marketing campaigns, the Western world is likely to be on the receiving end of an influential Executive MBA educated workforce. An important region both in the economic and financial sense, the more the Western world can understand business practice in the East, the greater the benefits on both sides of the globe.
Written by: Anna Graham
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