Educating business minds

University of Wollongong is one of a number of institutions helping to shape keen minds – young and old – in the UAE. Dean of the Faculty of Business, Professor Valerie Lindsay, explains what’s on offer for those looking to develop their business brains.
Educating business minds
By Neil King
Wed 04 Dec 2013 01:31 PM

There are no age limits to learning, especially in business.

Some of the brightest and longest-standing businessmen and women go to great lengths to increase their knowledge, especially in such a fast-moving environment.

For young students starting from scratch, and for established business owners, there is great value in getting and staying educated. Something the UAE caters for well, with a wealth of schools, colleges, universities and workshops designed to get the best out of both aspiring and inspiring business leaders.

One of the universities leading the way in business education is the University of Wollongong Dubai (UOWD), which offers students a variety of different courses at bachelors, masters and doctoral levels.

The courses provide various levels of depth, with undergraduate BBA and BCom degrees providing learners with a broad knowledge base and skills set, postgraduate and MBA courses focusing on more particular business functions, and DBA and PhD courses offering the opportunity for even more rigorous examinations of certain issues.

And judging by the number of people signing up to business courses, it seems the lure of a business education is increasingly attractive to young people.

Dean of the Faculty of Business, Professor Valerie Lindsay, explains that out of a student population of 4,000 at UOWD, more than three quarters are enrolled in business programmes, and that there has been a steady year on year increase.

“The increase in people looking for a business education is set against the business landscape of the UAE’s growing knowledge economy,” she explains.

“Dubai in particular has a strong business base in a range of growth sectors such as finance, technology, logistics and media. A broad business education, as well as specialisations in selected fields, provides the platform to enter and progress in these expanding industries.

“The country’s need for highly skilled personnel who can operate in a competitive, globalised environment means that business education is in increasing demand.”

The link between business education and business proper must, therefore, be incredibly close.

Lindsay confirms UOWD has a “dynamic relationship” with national and international business communities, which manifests itself through a range of initiatives including research, curriculum development and interactions between students and the industry.

These various research projects, workshops, and programmes, says Lindsay, “help to inform the curriculum and produce knowledgeable, work-ready graduates”.

And with such as strong SME sector in the UAE, as well as a thriving entrepreneurial scene, is this industry experience being used by students to launch their own businesses?

According to Lindsay, most graduates look for employment over entrepreneurship, but are given the necessary tools launch their own business should they wish to do so.

She says: “The vast majority of economies today rely heavily on the contribution of the SMEs, as well as new business ventures, for employment and economic growth, and the UAE is no exception.

“Increasingly entrepreneurship and SME development will be key drivers of growth in this region, especially in the growing service sector, where SMEs play an important role in servicing large firms and multinational corporations.

“With Dubai’s vibrant economy, there is an abundance of opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, and these are increasingly being explored and exploited.

“While the predominant profile among business students remains ‘employee’, the business curriculum provides a sound and relevant base for students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship and creating new ventures in the region.

“There is little doubt that the role of entrepreneurs will become more important as the UAE continues to expand its economic footprint.”

It’s not just younger generations who turn use education to get ahead. Courses give existing business owners and senior executives the perfect opportunity to gain both academic and practical benefits.

Lindsay points out that as well as learning theoretical concepts, they are exposed to a wide range of corporate functions, which “gives them a broader understanding of business operations and management issues, which, in turn, enhances their leadership capacity”.

She explains that some mature students sign up to courses to acquire a more in-depth understanding of a particular specialism in business, addressing a gap that needs to be filled in their professional ability.

“Business education also offers business owners an opportunity to interact with fellow practitioners and gain access to networks that can add real value to their personal and business profiles,” she adds.

Providing a good education, however, does not come without its difficulties.

Not only does business move and develop quickly, it also varies from place to place, making it necessary for any course to be fluid and adaptable.

“Some of the challenges revolve around keeping pace with the dynamic local business environment whilst aligning with the international practices and trends that drive a globalised economy,” says Lindsay.

“This requires an ongoing and open dialogue with the business and public sector communities to continually align the curriculum to ensure business courses are relevant and of the highest quality.

“Since many students move into management and leadership positions internationally, as well as locally, their learning must reflect international best practice to allow them to compete in a growing and increasingly competitive talent pool.

“The challenge for universities is to stay ahead of global changes and new trends in business, and to maintain global networks that facilitate this.”

Despite these issues - or perhaps because of them - Lindsay is confident the UAE is well placed to witness a surge in young business leaders.

She says: “Having recently declared its goal to be a new economic centre, there is a real opportunity to grow and diversify the UAE’s business landscape, and there are very many capable businessmen and women who can help to drive this ambition.

“This long-term vision will also attract new and talented business professionals, educators and industry leaders who will help to position the UAE on an international platform.

“Students in the UAE are very fortunate to have such an enriching and dynamic environment in which to develop and practice business skills.

“As a global leader in many industries, the UAE offers tremendous opportunity for the new generation of businessmen and women to excel and contribute meaningfully to the country’s economic future.”

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