Dubai, with its central shipping hub and growing construction industry, is a magnet for globally minded professionals from the region and abroad who want to cash in on new business opportunities.
“It's a very young, dynamic, internationally-oriented place,” says Roy Batchelor, the director of Cass Business School's Dubai Executive MBA program. “People come from all over the world, and there's an interesting mix of professions and cultures.”
Catering to this diverse mix of professionals are a growing number of high-quality, internationally-accredited business education programs. These MBA and EMBA programs meet the needs of a variety of people, from those who want to break into Dubai's growing economy to working professionals and budding entrepreneurs.
The EMBA program at Cass, for example, is geared towards executives in and around Dubai who want to continue working while taking classes. The program's structure (students attend class one long weekend per month) also allows executives from further afield to come in just for the classes.
“We've had students who were flying in from Cambodia,” says Batchelor, who adds that students have also come from as far away as Georgia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Qatar.
Likewise, students in the MBA program at the American University of Sharjah come to the program from countries in the Persian Gulf and across the Arab world:
“We have quite a few students from Iran, from Jordan, and from other places around the region,” says Robert Earl Bateman, the director of graduate programs in the university's School of Business and Management. Sharjah's location – about 15 miles northeast of Dubai – also makes it a good option for students who want to commute in from other emirates, such as Abu Dhabi.
For international students who want to find a niche in Dubai's growing economy, there are also global MBA programs that have on-campus residencies in the emirate. International students in the MBA program from Hult International Business School, for example, can choose to spend part of their time on the school's Dubai campus, where they can learn about the local business culture and network.
Likewise, students taking the Global MBA at SP Jain School of Global Management spend four months of the year-long program in Dubai.
Christopher Abraham, the head of SP Jain's Dubai campus, says that for international students who want to end up in Dubai, it's essential to have hands-on experience in the working environment there.
“You need to be exposed to the culture, you need to be exposed to the environment,” says Abraham.
“There's also the social dynamics,” Abraham continues – “how to do business in a Middle Eastern context, which is very different from a European way of doing business, or an American way of doing business, or even an Asian way of doing business.”
Cass' Roy Batchelor agrees, and notes that even the corporate structures of local businesses can seem alien to some newcomers.
“In the Gulf particularly, the western business models are sort of unusual, so companies owned by shareholders are pretty rare, whereas companies owned by families or owned by states are more the norm,” says Batchelor.
An entrenched entrepreneurial spirit
An increasingly popular draw of MBA programs in Dubai and the rest of the region is that they can help students realize their dreams of starting their own businesses. According to Batchelor, these dreams are practically a way of life in the region.
“Quite a lot of entrepreneurship goes on, almost in parallel with professional careers,” he says. “This is the reality of living and working there. If you're a young professional, you're going to make your own business happen at some point.”
Because of this interest, students in the Cass EMBA program can take several electives in entrepreneurship, including a “New Venture Creation” lab where students can develop and revise their live business plans.
Similarly, students in the MBA program at the American University of Sharjah can pursue a concentration in innovation, which includes courses offered jointly with the department of engineering.
“We have both engineers and MBA students in the course,” Robert Bateman says, “and they'll work in teams to put a business plan together or commercialize a new product.”
Although the concentration has only been offered for one year, Bateman says that it's already “very popular.” However, he also notes that many students continue to pursue concentrations in core functional subjects, like human resources and finance.
In particular, finance (and Islamic finance in particular) is seen as a field with strong growth potential in Dubai. Although many SP Jain graduates tend to go into logistics and shipping, Christopher Abraham sees finance as a good choice, due in part to recent political developments.
“Banking will be very good area,” says Abrahams. “Thanks in part to the Arab Spring, financial services is now emerging as a powerhouse here.”
Surprisingly, Abraham notes that not many Dubai-bound MBA graduates go into the local oil industry. This tends to reflect the role of the industry in Dubai as a whole.
“Many people think that it's oil rich,” Abraham says of Dubai, “but they've actually almost completely run out of oil.”
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