Key fact

Before cutting its education budget, Kuwait Investment Authority spent $3.5m a year on scholarships

Source: MEED

Management education does not come cheap. Few MBA courses cost less than $20,000 and students planning to join the most prestigious schools will have to find up to $100,000 for the privilege.

Gulf universities have only recently launched postgraduate and executive education. As a result, regional governments continue to send large numbers of nationals overseas. In 2005, Saudi Arabia launched the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Programme. Every year, it sends about 17,000 male and female students abroad to study masters degrees and doctorates, or to gain specialist medical knowledge.

Several of the region’s most prominent scholarship funds are rethinking their priorities though. The economic downturn has forced employers and state departments to slash corporate training budgets. They are also reluctant to fund individual Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) courses.

Personal investment in education in the Gulf

“The downturn has brought a decrease in the number of companies offering sponsorship,” confirms Manchester Business School (MBS) Middle East director Randa Bessiso. MBS estimates 15-20 per cent of its Dubai students are part-sponsored.

For most MBA students, the decision to enrol represents a personal investment in their own career prospects. “Most of our students fund themselves and do not receive a contribution from their employers,” says Cedwyn Fernandes, campus coordinator for MBAs at Middlesex University in Dubai. 

Fernandes reveals that it is postgraduate students in particular who miss out on financial support. “In Dubai, there are plentiful scholarships for undergraduate nationals, but there isn’t much available for postgraduates, apart from a few industry-sponsored scholarships.

“Some of our Emirati students are sponsored by their employers. Organisations such as Dubal and Dubai Municipality have their own schemes to support postgraduate study. But often it’s a private arrangement.”

Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Foundation halted applications to its fellowship programme this summer. The foundation offered scholarships to students from the 22 Arab League countries to study masters degrees in public administration, public policy, business administration and finance, paying all fees and living costs. Students went on to study at top international schools and colleges, including Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and Columbia Business School.

This autumn, the foundation was taking no new applications. According to a statement on its website, the foundation “is undertaking a rigorous review of its current strategy and programmes to deliver them in the most efficient manner … We are not accepting new applications until further notice”.

Saïd Business School (SBS) confirms there is no Rashid al-Maktoum Foundation Scholarship this year. Last year, MBA students at SBS could apply for funding to two scholarship programmes.

There are questions, too, about Kuwait Investment Authority’s (KIA) MBA scholarship programme. KIA spent nearly KD1m ($3.5m) a year on scholarships. Open only to nationals, the programme supported high-flying managers on the world’s most prestigious MBA courses. Management sources in Kuwait say KIA was turning prospective applicants away this summer. The authority said it had no budget for MBA students and suggested they reapplied for funding next year.

Diverting spending

“It’s a sign of the times,” says one overseas university manager. “Sponsors seem to be moving funding away from MBA programmes. So it’s not surprising that KIA is looking more critically at the skills that MBA courses deliver.

“It might well make more sense to spend the money on sending a larger number of students abroad to study for masters degrees. There is an argument that good degrees in science, energy, accountancy, finance or international business are more important than funding individual managers’ MBAs.”

Most of our students fund themselves and do not receive a contribution from their employers

Cedwyn Fernandes, Middlesex University, Dubai

Business schools that buck the trend owe it to long-term relationships with government departments. Hull University Business School was one of the first players to bring outreach MBA programmes to Bahrain and Oman. Its students are Gulf nationals in senior ministry roles. “Our Middle East students have access to ministry scholarships in Oman and Bahrain,” says programme leader for the distance-taught MBA, David Bright. “Usually, they pay for their MBAs in instalments, module by module, and the ministry refunds them on completion.”

Further afield, the Egyptian government sponsors postgraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Several overseas universities offer scholarships to Arab nationals. These include Berlin’s European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), which offers an annual scholarship of up to EU25,000 ($35,000) to one student from the Middle East or Central Asia on each of its executive and full-time MBA programmes. Scholarship students become ESMT ambassadors and mentors, and promote the school in the Middle East.

ExxonMobil offers scholarships to geo-science graduates who demonstrate “exceptional leadership skills”. The programme targets nationals from 14 Arab states who want to study in the US.

Cambridge University’s Judge Business School (JBS) plans to launch “a large-sized award for Middle East students” in 2011. JBS will award the scholarship to the most talented Middle Eastern student on the UK MBA programme. JBS already offers smaller region-based bursaries.

GCC education grants

Back in the GCC, governments are launching grants or scholarships to encourage citizens to enrol on home-grown courses, rather than study abroad.

Gulf universities are launching their own masters and doctorate programmes in management and technical subjects. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Yamama University, Prince Sultan University’s School of Business Administration and Alfaisal University School of Business have launched their own EMBA and MBA programmes.

It might make more sense to … send a larger number of students abroad to study for masters degrees

An overseas university manager

Saudi flagship King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (Kaust) offers Discovery Scholarships to promising undergraduates. The private university pays selected students’ undergraduate fees, then enrols them on a Kaust masters in engineering, biosciences or related subject on a full scholarship that covers fees, housing and travel.

The UAE has adopted a similar approach. “Emiratis are eligible for free education at the federal universities, which are expanding their [postgraduate] provision,” says Warren Fox, executive director of higher education at Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

Zayed University has launched a masters in public administration, and Al-Ain University and the University of the United Arab Emirates are launching doctorate programmes.

Foreign nationals are generally not eligible for such funding. This means there is little incentive for Gulf-based expatriates to join local courses. Many Gulf universities struggle, as a result, to attract a mix of nationalities to local MBA courses. This is a disadvantage, when the world’s top-ranked MBA programmes see diversity as a strength. “Markets such as the US offer federal loans,” says Fox. “There are no such loans in the UAE, because so many expatriates are here on short-term visas.”

There are some scholarships available, however. Nearly every academic body offers some kind of scheme of its own. This summer, Cass Business School launched the Middle Eastern Scholarship Fund to finance a student enrolled on its Dubai EMBA. This supplements a Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) scholarship that provides partial funding for between six and eight students on the Islamic Finance EMBA at Cass.

Cass Studentships provide additional partial funding for up to 15 students a year. The chosen students become ambassadors for the school.

London Business School (LBS) offers two scholarship programmes for its Dubai EMBA. Self-funding female students can apply for the Executive MBA Scholarship for Women. LBS also offers four Executive MBA (Dubai) Scholarships every year, worth up to $15,000 and open to male and female self-funding students.

Unsuccessful candidates can apply to the Barclays Loan Scheme, which lends MBA students up to AED 250,000 to cover tuition fees based on interest-only repayments for the first 30 months. The scheme is open to all LBS students living in the UAE for the duration of the course.

The biggest award that MEED identified, however, is not a scholarship. This autumn, Hult International Business School launched its second Hult Global Case Challenge, a competition open to business students worldwide. Teams of four or five students compete to create a million-dollar business solution for a non-profit organisation.

Global challenge

Hult will announce this year’s challenge topic this month (November), in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). A crowd-sourcing venture, the challenge is the brainchild of Ahmad al-Ashkar, Jordanian former Hult MBA student and founder of the online consultancy Bida World.

The challenge aims to be truly global. Hult’s campuses in San Francisco, Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai will each choose a regional finalist before the winning million-dollar solution is named. But the million-dollar prize goes not to the winning team but to the CGI member company that implements the top-rated business idea.

Students on the winning team receive a commemorative cup. And maybe – if they’re lucky – the offer of a job.