The Business Education Boom in Qatar

Learn more about the state of business education in Qatar and why this exotic destination is also becoming a magnet for managerial know-how.

The Business Education Boom in Qatar

Top-notch Business Educated Professionals Needed

What is the first thing you associate with Qatar? Petroleum, sand, stately Qataris with white turbans and sun, a lot of sun. All this is right, but Qatar is also stunning business development, five-star hotels, large highways in the desert, top-rate facilities. It is exactly this Qatari economic development that has led to the rise in demand for business education in the region.

Qatar is the world's third largest producer of natural gas, accounting for one-third of the world's proven reserves, and the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. It has managed successfully to translate its wealth of natural resources into social and economic advancement, emerging as an important donor country and importer of labour. Qatar has been largely insulated from the global crisis and its annual per capita income in 2011 was $98,000 (an average of Qataris, and non-Qataris who constitute 85% of the population) with an unemployment rate at 0.6 percent in 2011; figures from the International Monetary Fund.

Oil and gas-rich Qatar raised its economic growth forecast for 2013 to 4.8% from a previously forecast 4.5%, according to the General Secretariat for Development Planning. This growth forecast, down from an estimated 6.3% in 2012, will be Qatar's lowest since 2002. In 2011, the country's economy rose by a cosmic double-digit 18%, particularly against the background of the stagnating global economies.

Qatar has completed a 20-year investment programme to commercialise its substantial natural gas resources in 2011 and has now embarked on an infrastructure investment programme in the non-hydrocarbon sectors to advance its ongoing diversification agenda. In 2011 Qatar announced its plans to invest $20 billion to $25 billion in building railways, roads, utilities, facilities and other tourism infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 Soccer World Cup which it will host. By 2022 it plans to increase the capacity of its airport from the current 2.5 million to 50 million per year. As part of the investment plan, the government in Doha plans to build a cruise ship terminal at Doha's new $5.5 billion deepwater seaport with a capacity for two to three cruise ships which could be used to house visiting fans. Qatar aims to capture the high-end tourist market and is being closely scrutinized by the big hotel names.

"We don't want people to come for a $50 room to lie on the beach all day and walk around with a backpack and shorts. These are not the types of people we're targeting," the chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority Ahmed Abdullah Al-Nuaimi told Reuters in an interview. The country, which currently (in 2011) has 10,000 hotel rooms, plans to add an additional 5,500 in 2012 and further increase the number to 30,000 by 2013. 5,000 new rooms will come on stream each year through 2022, he said.

The robust economic development in Qatar has to be seen in the context of the overall economic growth trend in the whole Gulf region. The location of the Gulf states makes them a gateway to new emerging markets such as India, Africa and the Middle East. This economic boom has led to specific requirements for highly-skilled, qualified business leaders who will sustain the economic upturn and develop a new economic model in the Gulf countries which is not so dependent on natural resources. The Middle Eastern boom cannot be sustained if there is insufficient managerial potential.

"My first impression of Qatar was that they [the government in Doha] have constructed plenty of natural miracles over the past 5-6 years. Like the Pearl-Qatar artificial island which is the first land in Qatar to be available for ownership by foreign nationals," said Ilko Ilchev, and engineer who works as a technology consultant with the Qatar Foundation. Ilchev is one of those foreign nationals who have been attracted by Qatari employers for their top expertise in certain areas. His employer generously provides him with different kinds of social and other benefits, ensuring everything that is necessary for a high standard of living for him and his family.

"If you are a high-level manager, you'd have a really good standard of living in Doha. But to reach a top position you should be really well-educated and very skillful. The problem is the very high competition for these good corporate posts," Ilchev says.

Qatar's growing economy is eager for skilled labour and top managers. A business education is one of the best ways to foster the abilities and talents of managers. Following this trend, many Western European and U.S. schools are looking towards the region and have launched programmes there. They are building campuses where they will train the new generation of educated managers needed to run the expanding sectors of the economy and develop a new sustainable model of economic growth. The list of schools includes the world-renowned INSEAD Business School, London Business School, Manchester Business School, Cass Business School and Strathclyde Business School. HEC Paris was the first European school to launch an EMBA programme in Qatar. The programme was launched in February 2011 as a result of a partnership agreement between HEC Paris and the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation focusing on education, scientific research and community development founded in 1995 by decree of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar.

"Standards in higher education in the region and Qatar in particular are steadily rising.The government has already invested a great deal over the years and improvement continues. The Work of the Qatar Foundation, with whom we work very closely as a member, is very impressive, and is directly contributing to this success. It has taken not only vision, but decades of work to get to today's levels and the pace of improvement continues to grow. The aims of the government's Qatar National Vision 2030 state the goal of transforming Qatar into a knowledge-based economy and that is the main reason for the 'education boom' in Qatar. HEC Paris is proud to be a part of this growth and this vision," Joshua Kobb, Chief Operating Officer of HEC Paris in Qatar, told AccessMBA in an interview.

The EMBA programme is targeted specifically at experienced executives. It is substantially different from other programmes in that it is both regional and global, Kobb says. The EMBA currently offers eight Majors which allow opportunities to focus on individual areas of interest. The HEC Paris EMBA is offered in five locations (Paris, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Beijing and Doha), permitting participants to engage in additional international study periods. Admission to the EMBA usually requires a four-year degree from a recognized university, and at least eight years of work experience, five of which in a managerial position.

"We are now in the process of recruiting for the third intake for our EMBA programme and we are attracting a very high profile of candidates, and overall demand is growing," Kobb said. HEC Paris has further expansion plans in Doha. "In addition to the EMBA, in March 2013 we are launching a Specialised Master Degree in Strategic Business Unit Management.This degree requires a minimum age of 25, a 4-year degree from a recognised university and at least three years of work experience," added Kobb.

Another form of education which is particularly popular in the region is distance and online learning. In the 21st century, distance and online learning are becoming much more accepted, especially by working professionals. The programmes are seen as a mean to acquire further education without leaving work and families, says Refaat Kazoun, MBA, Regional Development Director of Stafford Associates. 

"Universities all over the world are finding it necessary to offer some kind of distance/online learning due to two factors - the increase in workers' mobility and its frequency and the decrease in workers' ability to commit particular dates and times to attend traditional classrooms," adds Kazoun. Stafford Associates was established in Dubai with an aim of providing service to working professional in the Gulf and the Middle East and present them with an opportunity to continue their education and achieve a UK postgraduate degree without leaving their work and families. 20 years and thousands of graduates later, Stafford now provides services to over 2000 student professionals. It offers programmes ranging from certificates, MBA's and MSc's to doctoral level from the University of Leicester, University of Northampton, University of Nottingham, University of Nottingham Trent and University of Anglia Ruskin.

Business in the Gulf region in general is regarded positively by the rest of the world and companies are re-hiring and expanding. Both KSA and the UAE have announced record budgets aimed at stimulating their economies and with the 2022 World Cup scheduled to take place in Qatar, the Doha government has announced billions of dollars worth of projects to prepare the country for what will be the largest sporting event held in the Middle East, resulting in hundreds of new company setups and major expansions of existing companies. This will also lead to new employees and new learning needs which has been felt through the increase in students applying and joining programmes via distance and online learning. Stafford Associates has seen a quadrupling in the numbers of students joining these programmes from Qatar over the last three years, Kazoun says.

Taking a reputable university into consideration, how do two MBA graduates as an example, one full-time and one distance or online learner compare? "Not wanting to detract anything from full-time MBA graduates, employers are finding that distance-learning graduates generally show better perseverance, determination, organization, time management and the ability to work independently.This is simply due to the fact that these graduates mostly complete their MBA while balancing learning, work and family commitments," Kazoun concludes.

The Middle East is booming and the need for qualified managers to deal with the ambitious economic projects in the region will be on the increase over the next years. Qatar's vibrant and fast-growing economy will need to boost its sustainable economic model and the role of highly-educated, skillful and talented workforce will be of key importance in achieving this goal.

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