MBA Programs in the Middle East: On the Rise

MBA programs in the region have come a long way, establishing themselves as competitive options on the global stage.

The Middle East, a region known for its rich history and diverse cultures, has been developing its business education sector over the past few decades. MBA programs in the can be a popular choice for both local and international students, thanks to international accreditation, experienced faculty and a strategic location.

The Middle East boasts a diverse range of MBA programs, offered by both local and international business schools, with the supply of such programs expanding. Earlier this year, NYU Stern School of Business in New York partnered with NYU Abu Dhabi to launch a one-year, full-time MBA program based in both Abu Dhabi and New York.

The program mirrors its two-year counterparts, blending knowledge and practical experience while benefiting from a shorter time away from the workforce. Internships are integrated into the curriculum, with modules designed to provide hands-on learning experiences with local organizations in the United Arab Emirates.

NYU’s Stern School of Business is the only top US business school offering a full-time MBA program in the Middle East, but many other schools in Europe do so.

Randa Bessiso, the Middle East director for the UK’s University of Manchester, says there are several key factors that make the region an attractive destination for pursuing an MBA program -- including good career opportunities.

“The Middle East is undergoing rapid economic transformation and diversifying its economies away from dependence on energy, so this is a very dynamic regional economy with good career opportunities for ambitious and qualified professionals,” she says.

Furthermore, the Middle East’s strategic location makes it an ideal hub for business and trade. Many global corporations have established their presence in the region, providing ample opportunities for MBA graduates to work for multinational companies.

Additionally, the Middle East serves as a gateway to emerging markets in Asia and Africa, making it an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to expand their ventures.

“The region needs to attract and retain international investment, innovative companies and talent,” says Bessiso. “Access to high-quality services, communications and career-development opportunities, including the presence of universities delivering MBA programs locally, is all part of the attraction for students.”

A rapidly developing management education sector

She says the management education sector in the region has developed rapidly, in direct response to the region’s ability to attract professionals from around the world. Alliance Manchester Business School offers a part-time MBA delivered in Dubai, for instance. “Today, many of the world’s top business schools are represented in the region, offering a wide range of MBA programs delivered in different formats,” Bessiso says.

Indeed, HEC Paris, a top French business school, has a campus in Qatar where it delivers an executive MBA program for working professionals. “In the last decade, MBA programs in the Middle East have evolved significantly to align with the changing demands of the region’s dynamic business environment,” says Joshua Kobb, executive director of partnerships and growth for HEC Paris in Qatar.

“We have witnessed a transition towards adapting learning models to emphasize a regional perspective, aligning with the national visions and developmental requirements of individual countries, particularly within the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).”

He says that MBA programs in the Middle East attract a varied cohort of students, reflecting the diversity of the region. Traditionally, many MBA students in the Middle East were expatriates seeking to advance their careers. However, there has been a notable shift in the applicant pool, with a growing number of local candidates.

“This shift is a direct result of the support extended by governments and state organizations to nurture the next generation of local business leaders,” Kobb says. “Governments and organizations are increasingly sponsoring local talent to pursue MBA programs, including part-time EMBAs, contributing to a more diverse and dynamic student body.”

Growing corporate demand for MBA talent

INSEAD business school, meanwhile, has a campus in Abu Dhabi where it delivers part of its full-time, 10-month MBA program.

Séverine Guilloux, INSEAD’s chief marketing officer, says that as countries in the Middle East embark on ambitious journeys to diversify their economies beyond traditional oil and gas sectors, a dynamic transformation is underway.

“This has led to a growing demand for skilled professionals in key sectors such as finance, technology, healthcare and energy, making the Middle East an increasingly attractive destination for those pursuing an MBA and seeking career opportunities,” she says.

One of the compelling factors drawing INSEAD graduates to the Middle East is the region’s strong commitment to sustainable development, Guilloux says.

Current INSEAD MBA student Anthony Mouawad completed a virtual internship with the Climate Tech Bootcamp this summer where he investigated climate tech startups in the Middle East. He also had the opportunity to visit “The Garage” in Saudi Arabia, an innovation hub for startups. “What struck me the most was the untapped potential in the region,” he says.

“There was a genuine effort to combat climate change, and it wasn’t just lip service. It reinforced the idea that my work was contributing to something bigger – a movement towards a more sustainable future.”

As the Middle East continues to evolve as a hub of economic activity and innovation, MBA programs in the region are set to continue to grow. 

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