In these recession-hit times, executive edu-cation is under the spotlight once more as Gulf companies steer their way through the financial downturn. But as the six GCC countries open their economies to the global market, demand for management skills is likely to grow further.

Previously available at only a handful of university business schools in the region, the number of MBA courses in the Middle East has grown rapidly over the past decade. Home-grown universities have expanded into business-related programmes and international business schools have established a presence in the region.

Key facts

  • 18 – Number of Gulf MBA schools with international partnerships
  • 2 – Number of top 20 global MBA providers with a presence in the GCC
  • 9 months – Study period for Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s corporate innovation programme

“There are around 200 different MBA courses now on offer in the GCC, the Levant, Iran and Pakistan,” says Ehsan Razavizadeh, head of UK-based City University’s Cass Business School representative office in Dubai.

Unusually, Cass offers two specialist exec-utive MBAs focusing on Islamic finance and energy, whereas most MBAs are general business courses.

Expanded offering

The US’ Hult International Business School launched a full-time Dubai MBA in 2007 and has this year launched a part-time course. It also offers intensive, two-day ‘pocket MBA’ courses. Hult’s selling point is the MBA programme’s global rotation: half the course’s four modules can be taken in the US, London or Shanghai. Similarly, students enrolled on the Abu Dhabi section of Insead’s Global executive MBA course also study in France and Singapore.

More specialist than MBAs are master’s degrees in dedicated business topics such as finance, marketing and human resources. MEED has not included details of these courses in this executive education report, as master’s programmes often target recent graduates yet to launch into a career.

However, several bodies including Hult, Bahrain’s Institute of Banking & Finance (BIFB) and the UK’s Middlesex University in Dubai are launching master’s programmes. The UK’s University of Aberdeen has opted not to launch a specialist oil and gas MBA, instead launching a master of science (MSc) degree in international business, energy and petroleum.

Non-degree courses comprise tailor-made programmes for corporate clients (see feature, page 10) and open enrolment programmes. These courses are offered to any student, built around themes such as private equity or leadership.

These programmes include Said Business School’s Saudi-Oxford advanced management and leadership programme, a four-week course based in Oxford and Riyadh for which entry is by invitation only.

In June next year, London Business School in Dubai will offer a course on private equity, while Insead Abu Dhabi’s Family Enterprise Challenge in April brings together the owner of a Gulf conglomerate, the company’s heir apparent and the non-family chief executive officer to discuss ways to plan for change.

Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s flagship executive education course is the nine-month corporate innovation and entrepreneurship programme, which focuses on managers pursuing business start-ups, particularly businesses linked to science and research.

“There is a huge need for executive education in Saudi Arabia. Demand will be driven by liberalisation”

Kim Pringle al-Sahhaf, head of education, Sagia

Future growth in the number of executive education programmes is likely to focus on regional giant Saudi Arabia, which is planning a new era of education reform.

For reform to gather pace, the kingdom needs to find the right business model to move forward. One option is to open the kingdom to foreign business schools, while another is to encourage partnerships between universities and colleges overseas, and their counterparts inside the kingdom.

“In Qatar and Dubai, we are seeing the emergence of academic cities with their own regulatory bodies that are working to attract foreign business schools,” says Kim Pringle al-Sahhaf, head of education at the state-run Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (Sagia). “Saudi Arabia has not yet decided which business model will work best.

“One thought is that the six economic cities will provide a new framework for expansion of education, allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership in a more liberal environment.”

Al-Sahhaf expects Saudi Arabia’s executive education needs to increase as the country opens its economy to global competition.

“There is a huge need for executive edu-cation,” says Al-Sahhaf. “Demand for business education in Saudi Arabia will be driven by liberalisation of sectors such as insurance and banking.

“More liberal mortgage laws will need specialist finance skills, and we will see demand for specialist know-how in mergers and acquisitions, and for qualified accountants and financial professionals.”

When it comes to degree-level education, different MBA courses target different needs. The influx of global business schools has helped to create a heavily segmented executive education system in markets such as Dubai. Here there is a widening gap between multi-nationals that target global executives and schools whose courses are recognised only locally.

In Dubai, there are three levels of accreditation for degrees, with no harmonisation between the regulatory bodies.

Federal accreditation – handled by the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) – requires the school or college to be autonomous and to issue its own degrees.

Inside Dubai’s free zones, Dubai Knowledge & Human Development Authority requires business schools to belong to a recognised international university and to issue degrees to the standard of the home campus.

Not all business schools are equal in the global market. The accreditation that matters comes from the Association of MBAs (Amba) in the UK, from Equis in France or from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges and/or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in the US.

For top-flight executives, the choice of local course remains relatively limited. Just four Gulf-based MBA courses are accredited to AACSB and seven to Amba.

Accreditation worries

“To work in the UAE, the government requires a CAA-accredited degree,” says Nick van der Walt, academic dean of Hult International Business School. “[But those] going to work for a global company or to work internationally will want internationally recognised accreditation. This is particularly true if they want to transfer credits for partially completed degrees.”

Choice of course is also linked to income. “In Dubai, up to 90 per cent of the population are expatriates, many from underprivileged countries where education is so desirable that even matrimonial advertisements demand master’s degrees and MBAs,” says one GCC executive who is studying for an MBA at one of the top international business schools.

“For these expats, tier one and tier two business schools are beyond the reach of their salary. They cannot afford an MBA from the top 100 international business schools, let alone the top 50.

“But they can afford an MBA at a Gulf university, and may feel it has more cachet from a Western university in Dubai than an MBA from a university at home.”

Only two of the providers of the top 20 -global MBAs have bases in the GCC: London Business School and Insead. But many nevertheless recruit aggressively in the region, through expansion of their alumni networks, which act as both a marketing and a mentoring tool for foreign colleges and universities.

Money and a Gulf presence are not always the deciding factors when Gulf students look for the best executive education to suit their needs; global perspectives and research matter too. Aberdeen has a global reputation in oil and gas, but does not plan to open a GCC base.

Ultimately, most top GCC executives and Western expatriates want a degree that multinational employers recognise and respect, particularly if they want a portable MBA that will impress prospective contacts and employers outside the region. And it is first and foremost these factors that will influence them in their choice of MBA institution.

Case study: Nimesh Joshi

Nimesh Joshi is joint managing director of Dubai-based Syntec Construction and president of the emirate’s Young Entrepreneurs Network. In September, he joined the part-time MBA course at Hult International Business School in Dubai

Born in Dubai, Joshi moved to the US and was accepted to study an MBA at a leading business school, but had just two years’ work experience at the time. Instead, he started his own business and eventually moved back to the UAE.

Dubai had few top MBA courses at the -beginning of the decade. “The business schools that were here didn’t really cut it,” says Joshi.

Now, however, Joshi hopes the Hult Inter-national Business School MBA will boost his forthcoming business start-up.

“It was important to me to attend an instit-ution that attracted a high-calibre student group and offered great networking opportunities,” he says.

“Hult offered a sound, internationally accredited course and flies in the best overseas professors. I hope to study at Hult’s Shanghai campus, if it turns out to offer the right elective modules. I do a lot of business with China around Shanghai. The course costs $50,000-60,000, but I have started to recoup this already.

“My new business is launching a beverage product…working with channel partners in Africa. I may have found people [on the course] who can work with me.”

Case study: Nedaa Nassief

Nedaa Nassief is the founder of CliniPharma, a UK-based research and development-focused pharmaceutical company. She joined Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s corporate innovation and entrepreneurship programme (CIEP) in the summer of 2007

Nassief trained as a doctor in Iraq, specialising in paediatrics and immunology. A sufferer of asthma, she began to research the pathology of the disease in the 1990s and discovered that a drug marketed as a treatment for viral hepatitis was also effective in treating asthma.

Having obtained a patent for the drug in the UK in 1998, Nassief was not sure how to turn her research into a business. She joined the nine-month CIEP course, accredited by Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, to learn how to bring her ideas to market.

At CIEP,  Nassief met Pascal Derde, a vet at Qatar’s Al-Shaqab Stud Farm who works with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science & Community Development. The strategic plan that Nassief and Derde drew up for Clini-Pharma won CIEP’s business plan competition. Nassief’s prize was QR100,000 ($27,465) and a one-year mentorship at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP).

Carnegie Mellon’s stateside connections have helped. CIEP introduced Nassief to Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, a non-profit company that provides capital investment to start-up businesses. Nassief is setting up offices at QSTP and in Pittsburgh to conduct clinical trials before bringing her drug to market.