The Middle East is a growing MBA market serving as a gateway to a successful career in the region, mainly through its business education hubs of Dubai, Beirut, Doha, and Kuwait. The growth of the MBA sector is mostly fuelled by the ambition of the oil-rich nations to invest in business education to help develop a new crop of local business leaders capable of steering the region’s dynamic economy.
Many Western educational institutions have opened campuses in the Gulf States over the last decades, from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In addition, quite a few local business schools have launched their own MBA programmes.
Those willing to study in the Middle East should be aware that this is an exceptionally diverse region consisting of about 20 countries and populated by various ethnic and linguistic groups. It is full of contrasts, which are also reflected in the region’s business education landscape. In terms of economic development, currently the region is a mix of prospering, oil-rich countries and nations struggling with some form of turmoil.
Economic growth to pick up
Growth in the Middle East and North Africa region was estimated to have slowed to 2.7% in 2016, due to fiscal consolidation in some countries and oil production constraints in others, according to the World Bank. However, the bank predicted that economic growth in the region would recover to 3.1% in 2017, with oil importers booking the strongest gains.
The Middle East is an attractive hub for investment. A growing population, a strengthening middle class, and the attempt to diversify the economy and government revenues away from petroleum provide many business opportunities across the region. According to PwC’s 2017 Paying Taxes study, the Middle East has the least demanding tax framework globally and is the easiest place in which to pay taxes – which acts as a magnet for foreign businesses.
A growing MBA market
Candidates willing to study for an MBA in the Middle East can benefit from the programmes offered by top universities. Over the last decades, many foreign universities, aware of the need to provide quality education to local professionals and also expose their students to the specific business environment in the region, have decided to set up campuses in the Middle East to tap into the growth of the local business education market. In 2007, INSEAD (France) strengthened its presence in the Middle East with a campus in Abu Dhabi. London Business School (UK) opened its Dubai campus in the same year. It has since welcomed more than 3,000 participants from the Middle East on its open enrolment programmes. Hult International Business School (US) has a campus in Dubai Internet City, a technology park located just outside Dubai’s extravagant centre. Hult students can spend time there as part of the school’s global rotation programme. In addition Cass, part of City University (UK), runs an Executive MBA programme in Dubai. HEC Paris (France) offers several management programmes in Doha, including Qatar’s first international Executive MBA, a Specialised Master’s degree in Strategic Business Unit Management, and non-degree management programmes for executives. In addition, the University for Northampton and Stafford Global jointly offer a Distance Learning MBA programme with optional weekend workshops in the UAE.
One of the reasons why established Western business schools are setting foot in places like Dubai is the growing demand from a rapidly expanding population of young professionals craving for career development, says Karen Ryan, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for the UAE at Strathclyde Business School, which launched its MBA programme in the UAE in 1995.
The development of local business education in the Middle East is still at an early stage, but many countries in the region, especially the oil-rich ones, are moving to hire teachers from abroad to help train the next generation of local business leaders. To increase their international recognition and visibility local business schools have started gaining international accreditations. The American University in Cairo is accredited by AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. The University of Dubai gained AACSB accreditation in 2009. It offers evening classes, and students can complete its MBA programme in 15 months. The UAE, which is the largest MBA job market in the Middle East, already has four business schools that are accredited by AACSB. Saudi Arabia currently has one AACSB-accredited university – King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), which offers both full- and part-time MBA programmes. Israel, Qatar, Kuwait, and Lebanon also host at least one AACSB-accredited university.
Diverse MBA classrooms and career prospects
If you are considering the Middle East for your MBA, you are likely to be in a highly diverse international classroom of aspiring managers from the region, but also from other parts of the world. The MBA-bound professionals in the Middle East, especially those in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are mostly expatriates and interested in part-time programmes. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai the majority of the MBA candidates attending Access MBA One-to-One events are expatriates, according to Advent Group data. Professionals aspiring to MBAs come primarily from IT & Engineering or Social Sciences backgrounds. A considerable proportion of them want to study for an MBA degree to start an international career or to change their current position. Career opportunities is the top criterion in the selection of an MBA programme for local aspirants. The majority of MBA candidates in Dubai, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi are employed, which explains why part-time programmes are in high demand.
Business schools in the region advertise their ties to, and knowledge of, the local industry, while also underscoring the global element in their MBA programmes. The American University in Cairo claims that its MBA programme helps professionals “become global business leaders”. The University of Dubai prepares global leaders too, but also stresses the importance of being familiar with the specifics of doing business in the UAE. The Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB) at the American University of Beirut proclaims that its “vision is to become globally recognised as the leading business school between Europe and South Asia in terms of academic research, teaching excellence, and business impact.” It has to be pointed out that despite being located in a region best known for its oil reserves, most business schools do not narrow the focus of their programmes to the oil and gas industry but express a larger ambition to prepare general managers capable of performing well irrespective of region and industry.
MBA graduates in the Middle East typically find employment in Marketing, Consulting, and Finance. They are hired as procurement managers, project managers, sales directors, spending analysts, business development directors, or accountants. A simple search on recruitment website Bayt.com for jobs in the Gulf and Middle East requiring an MBA degree returns numerous vacancies in Sales, Management, Accounting and Auditing, Human Resources and Recruitment, and Engineering. It is therefore safe to assume that graduates are spoilt for choice.
The cost of the MBA varies depending on the university and the country it is located in. Candidates willing to enrol in the full-time MBA programmes of the University of Wollongong Dubai (UAE) should set aside about USD 27,000, while those interested in the MBA programme of the Heriot-Watt University (UK) in Dubai will need to cover USD 24,000 in tuition costs.
More than just an MBA
Studying for an MBA in the Middle East offers much more than the opportunity to hone your managerial skills and witness the way business is done in that part of the world. Along with learning the business etiquette, you will also get a taste of the actual culture of the region, which is incredibly diverse, having been shaped by various historical movements and civilisations.
If you decide to enrol in an MBA programme in any of the Middle Eastern OPEC member states, you will have the chance to see the massive transformation of the region brought about by the discovery of oil. Before oil was discovered, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, now home to incredibly rich cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh, were just swathes of inhospitable desert populated by nomadic tribes.
An MBA in the Middle East will also give you the opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of the local cuisine with its flavourful and aromatic food. You may also develop a liking for Middle Eastern music with its exotic melodies and complex rhythms. And what about learning some Arabic? It can be a challenge, especially considering the many different dialects, but it is worth a try.
Along with your MBA degree and newly developed managerial skills, you will have the opportunity to live in one of the most dynamic regions in the world.
This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2017-2018 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “The Treasures of the Middle East”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.