The GCC’s Top MBA Courses

Post-financial crisis, MBAs are in vogue in the Gulf. Which are the most popular courses and who is enrolling?

As business educators suggest, the job market volatility of the past few years has only strengthened the perceived need to go back to school. Middlesex University in Dubai currently has 160 graduates and has seen a steady enrollment growth of 20-30 per cent each year, with its largest ever intake in 2011. “This growth has been consistent across many of our postgraduate programmes,” says marketing manager Wassim Hamadah.

“Attendance has gone up rapidly (around 75 per cent since 2007),” agrees Ehsan Razavizadeh regional director, MENA, Cass Business School, based at Dubai International Financial Centre. During economic slumps, there is a renewed interest in people investing in their education, he feels. MBA topics relevant to the region also continue to develop. At Cass these include entrepreneurship and oil & energy economics.

TAILORED OPTIONS

Available across the region’s business schools are full-time or part-time MBAs (evenings or weekends), plus distance, online, or blended learning (a mixture of face-to-face tutorial and online learning – sometimes spending periods of time at other international campuses).

“Part-time programmes are very popular (in the region), as students tend to continue working while enrolling in our programmes,” says Patricia McCall, regional director Middle East and North Africa, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “We have seen an increase in interest in most GCC countries, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – primarily among mid-to-senior level managers looking to make the next leap in their career. There are also those looking to transition into other careers.”

As Denise Johnsen, senior recruitment and admissions manager, London Business School adds: “With restricted company budgets, there is an increase in the number of self-financed students since 2009 and admission numbers have still remained high. This really shows that students are convinced of the value of their MBAs in relation to their careers.”

Where is the demand coming from? Manchester Business School, launched in the Middle East in 2006, now supports more than 1200 MBA students across the region. As Randa Bessiso, the school’s Middle East director observes, they are generally experienced working professionals from a variety of industries including ICT, construction/real estate, energy, manufacturing and banking/financial services, with an average age of late 30s and between 6-20 years work experience. There is also a growing percentage of female students.

“Many are senior managers with leading multinational companies and larger regional companies,” says Bessiso. “The vast majority are self-funded although many enjoy some form of support and encouragement from employers, such as time off for workshops.”

COURSE OFFERINGS

According to Professor Christopher Abraham, head, Dubai campus and senior VP institutional development, S P Jain School of Global Management, the more ‘traditional’ MBA programmes with specialisations in marketing, finance, logistics, operations and general management are still the most popular.

“In our full-time Global MBA, courses such as investment banking and wealth management, information technology, logistics/supply chain and contemporary marketing are much sought after,” says Professor Abraham. “S P Jain recently launched the world’s first specialisation in consulting management at MBA level. This has become extremely popular for students interested in taking up strategic consulting roles.”

S P Jain also offers a two-city full-time residential MBA programme where the students spend six months in Dubai and Singapore respectively. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management offers something similar as part of its blended Cross-Continent MBA, where all students spend study time at its Dubai, New Delhi, St Petersburg, Shanghai and (home) North Carolina campuses.

“Our mainstream finance electives have been very popular amongst finance professionals – Mergers & Acquisitions and Private Equity,” adds Razavizadeh from Cass Business School. Entrepreneurship is another popular elective at Cass for students who want to set up their own business.

“Over 25 per cent of the elective courses that our MBA students take today are in entrepreneurship,” agrees Stephen Mezias, professor of entrepreneurship, INSEAD, Abu Dhabi. “The courses are organised in four main career tracks: ‘Launching a New Venture’, ‘Acquiring a Business’, ‘Venture Capital/Private Equity’ and ‘General Management/Family Business’.

“Another growing area of interest amongst our MBA students is social impact related courses (such as) environmental management, strategic corporate social responsibility, economics in emerging markets and corporate governance. “

INSEAD also offers as an elective ‘Building Businesses in the Middle East: Understanding the Environments and Business Responses’. Designed to introduce the region’s systems of business by placing them in comparative context, it incorporates fieldwork visits to companies and investment institutions, presentations by business practitioners and exposure to local culture. The course largely takes place in Abu Dhabi.

“A popular elective at London Business School is the macro/micro economy elective, in order for students to better understand the world and make forecasts for the future,” says Johnsen. Other emerging MBA electives in the region include maritime management, law, Islamic banking and museum studies.

As for emerging trends, “MBA applicants seem increasingly interested in shorter courses that minimise time away from their career and offer a sound return on their investment,” says Peter Zemsky, dean of programmes, INSEAD, whose MBA enrollment has remained steady over the past year at approximately 500 per intake or 1008 total for the 2012 programme. “INSEAD first developed the one-year MBA programme over 50 years ago, and other business schools have also introduced condensed programmes in recent years.

“In terms of other trends, we continue to see good growth from MBA candidates from emerging markets – including countries in the Middle East. We welcome this as it adds greater diversity to our applicant pool.”