The MBA in the Middle East

Learn more about the MBA in the Middle East, a region that combines both Western and local aspects in its approach to business.

The MBA in the Middle East

The MBA is valued by employers in the Middle East as the region continues its unique form of development combining Western and local approaches to business.

The Middle East is viewed by investors as a region with a very high potential return on investment. The current rise in the price of oil will be beneficial to the countries’ revenues in general, as long as it is sustainable and doesn’t hit the world economy by creating a chain reaction of asset bubbles and inflation. For 2022, the International Monetary Fund forecasts economic growth in the Middle East of 4.1%. The ongoing diversification of the economies of the oil-rich countries creates consistent demand for competent business leaders. Predictably, the richest states are the ones with the most vibrant MBA job markets. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows in the GCC increased by 12.4% to USD 27.7 billion in 2020, led by strong increases in inflows into Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, according to the UN’s annual World Investment Report (WIR). We are going to review some of the countries in the Persian Gulf. Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are the main MBA job centres in the region and we will focus on five of these countries.

The Qatar model

Qatar is one of the most affluent countries worldwide. In 2020 its GDP stood at USD 146.4 billion. A GDP per capita of nearly USD 90,000 (PPP) ranks its population of 2.8 million among the wealthiest consumers in the world. Qatar’s economy is heavily dependent on its natural resources, with the oil and gas sector making up more than 60% of the country’s GDP. Qatar is a monarchy, with the Al-Thani family ruling since its declared independence from Britain in 1971.

The country does not have the range of business schools offered by the United Arab Emirates. This is partially because of the smaller population and territory of the Gulf nation. The economy of the UAE is also more diversified. Many citizens of Qatar fly to Abu Dhabi or Dubai to attend UAE’s business schools. HEC Paris started an Executive MBA program in Doha in February 2011 after becoming the first member of the Qatar Foundation Management and Research Center. The profile of a typical student in its programme is a senior manager with about 10 years of experience.

Qatar is an interesting place for international business schools and is likely to witness an increase in the number of MBA programmes. The chief challenge for business education over the next few decades will be training leaders who will create and run an economy less dependent on the natural resources. However, this is also a test for the country’s politicians.

A further boost to the local business will be delivered by the FIFA Men's World Cup in 2022. Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the supreme committee, has said Qatar’s spending on infrastructure since 2010, including the new metro system, is projected to be USD 200 billion.

The College of Business and Economics at Qatar University won an accreditation from AACSB in January 2010.

Economic diversification in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states. Following independence from Britain in 1971, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain together formed the UAE. The following year Ras Al-Khaimah was also included in the federation. The seven countries in the UAE are absolute monarchies and there are no political parties. The economy of the country has seen rapid development, mainly due to the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 60s. Oil production is concentrated in Abu Dhabi, which accounts for 90% of the black gold output and also for roughly the same proportion of the Emirates territory. Over time, the oil revenues have gradually helped the country build its social and physical infrastructure. Government presence in the economy is strong with numerous restrictions, subsidies and state companies. UAE’s GDP stood at USD 421.1 billion in 2019, while GDP per capita (PPP) was USD 43,103.

The role of business education in the country, beside the purely academic role, is to build networks among graduates and to further internationalise the business landscape of the UAE. The foreign investments form a limited share of the GDP and do not play a central role for the economy. This, combined with the traditionally strong ties amongst local businesses, elite families and the government, may create conditions for isolation. The many Western and regional non- Emirati graduates studying in the UAE’s business schools could contribute to boosting the international profile of the economy and to revitalising and diversifying its connections.

Despite diversification efforts, UAE’s economy is heavily reliant on oil and gas production. Dubai is the financial and tourist centre of the country.

The Dubai London Business School offers an Executive MBA programme. The school has a clear policy of encouraging diversity. 50 students from 24 countries are in the graduating class of 2011. Hult International Business School started its one-year MBA in Dubai in 2008.

Bayes Business School launched its EMBA in Dubai in September 2007 and offers specialisation in Islamic finance. INSEAD (France) has a campus in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia’s perspective

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter, controlling the world's second largest oil reserves and the sixth largest gas reserves. About 67% of export earnings come from the oil industry. It is an absolute monarchy and there are no political parties. GDP stood at USD 700 billion in 2020, while GDP per capita was USD 20,110.

The business schools in the country are not sufficiently internationalised. Despite some recent interest, international business schools have not been very eager to set up campuses in this desert kingdom, despite the lucrative opportunities there. The cultural differences of Saudi Arabia, the relatively closed character of the business communities and the segregation between men and women most likely played a role in the country’s unrealised potential in this particular area. In an interview for the Wall Street Journal, director of the Saudi Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme Lalit Johri said: "…I would think the only way in which the international business schools can contribute value in Saudi Arabia is by customizing programs and understanding their context and embedding the cases into the Saudi economy and the Saudi social fiber. Any international school which tries to bring off-the-shelf products is likely to fail in that market."

The Kuwait way

Kuwait is an emirate. Its GDP stood at USD 136.2 billion in 2019 and GDP per capita was USD 32,373. Kuwai possesses about 10% of the world's crude oil reserves. As of 2021, Kuwait has a population of 4.67 million people where 1.45 million are Kuwaiti citizens and 3.2 million are foreign nationals.

Kuwait, like most other economies in the GCC, needs educated business leaders and entrepreneurs that will help diversify the economy and secure the country’s long-term prospects.

The Kuwait – Maastricht Business School was founded in 2003 in partnership with the Maastricht School of Management. The school offers the first MBA degree in Kuwait. There are a total of four AACSB accredited institutions in the country.

Bahrain looking towards the future

With GDP of USD 38.47 billion and a population of 1.7 million, Bahrain ranks among the wealthiest countries in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain developed the first post-oil economy in the Gulf by investing heavily in banking and tourism. Petroleum production accounts for 11% of GDP.

Given Bahrain’s relatively small oil and gas reserves, managers in this Middle Eastern country will have to continue along the path to diversification. Business education in Bahrain has potential for growth. The University of Bahrain, College of Business Administration, is the only AACSB-accredited school in the country.

MBA going eastwards 

The combination of the quality of programmes and the cultural diversity of the Middle Eastern schools make the region attractive for both local and international students.

Those considering studying for an MBA in the Middle East should be aware that this is diverse region consisting of about 20 countries and populated by various ethnic and linguistic groups. The region is currently a mix of prospering, oil-rich countries and nations struggling with some form of turmoil. A decision to study there should be accompanies by deep research and awareness of your own goals.

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