Western schools may struggle as Gulf education heats up

Rise in export of Western education pushes competition, executive schools report solid student intakes
Western schools may struggle as Gulf education heats up
COMPETITION RISES: Western educational institutes could struggle to stay afloat as available places outstrip students (Getty Images)
By Gavin Davids
Mon 15 Nov 2010 05:45 PM

Western educational institutes competing for petrodollars in the Gulf could struggle to stay afloat as available places outstrip students, the regional head of Cass Business School has said.

Universities and business schools must expand into the wider Middle East if they are to maintain their student populations, said Eshan Razavizadeh.

 “If you want to rely on the GCC market alone, I think that probably in the longer term, you could find it quite challenging, to be honest, I think you’d find it quite difficult,” Razavizadeh told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the Access MBA Tour in Dubai.

“If you say Gulf, plus expats, plus other parts of the Middle East, then yes.  Dubai has a lot of international expats and local expertise, but it’s also a hub for us to the rest of the region.”

Recent years have seen a marked rise in the export of Western education to the Gulf. The region is home to a number of top-ranked British and Ivy League universities, including Weill Cornell and Georgetown University in Qatar, and a string of prestigious business schools.

Some facilities look to Gulf tuition fees to support their domestic activities and fund their overseas expansion, said Razavizadeh.

“I think some other [institutions] are relying heavily on expansion, making sure that they have enough numbers which would translate into money and funding back home,” he said.

Randa Bessisio, director of the Manchester Business School, Middle East, said there were questions over the Gulf’s capacity to fill its growing number of executive education facilities.

The school is currently researching the demand for executive education in the Gulf, in partnership with Dubai state-backed company Tecom, and is scheduled to launch a new executive education programme in 2011.

“It’s difficult to say,” Bessisio said in an emailed statement. “Doing research is vital before committing major investment here. Some of the top schools… are doing well here.”

Michigan State University closed its Dubai campus in July after losing millions of dollars in the two years since it opened.

 Business schools, however, continue to report strong intake figures. Manchester Business School expects to enroll its 1,000 student in its January intake, Bessisio said.

“Student numbers continue to increase strongly and we now have more than 800 post-experience MBA students in the Middle East.”

The overwhelming majority of students are expatriates, she added, with some GCC nationals.

Cass Business School has seen a 40 percent rise in applications over the last two years, its regional director said, without specifying numbers.

The rise in education providers will create more competitive marketplace that will benefit executive students, said Razavizadeh.

“The market has become smarter; the audience is not only looking for another general MBA and people want to get value for their money. They don’t want to just invest, waste their time, for nothing,” he said, adding that schools must align themselves with the needs of the Gulf economy.

“That’s key and we can’t really avoid it. [In the UAE], we introduced Islamic Finance as a specialization, because Dubai wanted to become a hub, and we thought we could produce enough skills for people [who wanted] to go into this industry.”

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