Why the Gulf region is a key target market for international business schools
The job market volatility of recent years has provided plenty of opportunities for business schools in the GCC. The depth and length of the global economic recession provided many executives with the impetus to pursue new academic qualifications. Growing investor confidence is encouraging this trend further. The GCC’s geographically central location, a young and growing population, and the demand to deliver top managers and leaders, means the region has become a top priority for the world’s leading business schools.
Another factor driving this demand is the region’s stated goal of economic diversification. GCC gross domestic product (GDP) rose by an average 6.1 percent per annum in the years 2000 to 2008. With the onset of the recession, regional GDP dropped to 0.9 per cent in 2009.
The UAE was particularly hard-hit. Dubai’s property market crash in 2008 brought the emirate to the brink of default. While it avoided this calamity, a more cautious approach from investors has meant the UAE’s broader economic recovery has been slow to gain pace and despite a more positive outlook from the International Monetary Fund since 2012, projections continue to show sluggish, albeit consistent growth.
Given the economic challenges facing the broader region, demand for qualified talent has never been stronger. International business schools are vying to bridge the gap with a range of executive education services.
UK-based Manchester Business School (MBS) began offering a part-time Global Executive MBA course in Dubai earlier this year. Globally, around 1,600 students are enrolled in the course, says MBS Middle East director Randa Bessiso.
“Education, training and development are increasingly recognised as key enablers in realising the region’s economic and social ambitions,” she says. “In a rapidly evolving regional economy, vocational education, executive education and general business education will all play vital roles in ensuring continued access to a highly trained workforce.
“We believe that world-class business schools help attract these top executives and support their ongoing training and development [in the Gulf].”
The UAE is home to campuses of six of the world’s top 100 business schools, as collated in this year’s Financial Times international ranking of MBA programmes.
Two of the world’s top 10 business schools have campuses in the UAE – London Business School (LBS), the world’s third-best, and Insead, which ranked fifth internationally. Both schools offer executive education services in the UAE, including MBA programmes. LBS currently has more than 219 students enrolled in its EMBA courses.
“We hold regular discussions with local employers, recruiters, consultants and analysts to ensure we are meeting the needs of the labour market,” says Dina Dommett, LBS executive director of leadership programmes.
“We organise regular thought-leadership forums at our Dubai offices located in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), with representatives from top employers from across the region.”
DIFC is also home to the regional headquarters of UK-based Cass Business School. The Dubai facility is Cass’s only overseas campus. Cass Business School MENA director Ehsan Razavizadeh says the emirate was a logical location for expansion. “We had been running programmes in China since 2000. With the opening of DIFC, and the demand for leaders and top managers, it made a lot of sense for us to be here.”
Cass offers a number of courses, including a highly rated EMBA, which is ranked fifth in the UK, 14th in Europe and 35th in the world by the Financial Times. The company established its EMBA programme in Dubai in 2012. It is designed for managers and aspiring business leaders working in the Gulf and MENA region.
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