The Business Year

Randa Bessiso

UAE, DUBAI - Health & Education

Get Ahead

Founding Director, Manchester Business School, Middle East Centre


Randa Bessiso was instrumental in planning and establishing the Middle East Centre, which opened in Dubai Knowledge Village in 2006. She has spent much of her career working on market entry strategies, company start ups, and channel development programs, building profitable regional businesses and brands. Prior to joining MBS in 2005, she was International Business Manager for UK eUniversities Worldwide, a British government-backed online education initiative.

"The local and regional economy has matured and diversified and we have kept pace with this."

What is the profile of the students following the highly popular MBA program of the Manchester Business School (MBS)?

MBS opened the Middle East Centre in Dubai Knowledge Village in 2006 and was the first top-ranked school to open a physical presence in the region, offering the MBA, the world’s most popular business qualification and a pre-requisite for a serious career in international business for many companies. Since we opened our Middle East Centre in Dubai, we have supported over 1,600 MBA students from 85 nationalities. They study for the highly applied graduate, post-experience degree; the part-time Manchester Global MBA program. The quality of our MBA students is a key feature of the region and around 10% of our students are already educated to the Master’s level and 30% are already in c-level roles. Our students are highly committed working professionals who want to progress in their careers, or perhaps compete internationally. We have also seen many students use the MBA program to develop their entrepreneurial skills and launch their own businesses. In addition to current students, we have an alumni community in the Middle East comprising of around 2,000 graduates of our full-time and part-time MBA programs, making for a vibrant professional network. Our new Global Executive MBA program, launched in July 2014, is a more personalized program designed for the most senior executives, who will join the MBS international alumni community of more than 50,000 working professionals.

What advantages does the MBA bring students who want to enter the workforce of Dubai?

All our students are working professionals and our vision is to transform the careers and lives of our students and in doing so, transform their organizations and the communities in which they work. Student motivations for studying an MBA are very personal, but there are a number of common trigger factors. Career advancement and salary acceleration feature strongly, and students pursuing their MBA expect to move up or move out. We have many students with strong technical backgrounds or a very specific, functional set of skills, who use the MBA to broaden their business perspectives, competencies, and skill sets to move into different industries or more general management roles, and are able to apply their new knowledge immediately in the workplace. They do so with the help of the MBA and the additional career services that we offer them. Since the global economic recession, more students have increasingly found this period to be an excellent opportunity to use the MBA to help develop their entrepreneurial skills and start their own businesses. We continue to work extensively with our students beyond the MBA program, through our alumni relations, and we take an active interest in supporting their career development beyond just the networking opportunities and connections that the school provides.

Most universities here in Dubai have partners with international or local companies, or governmental institutes to promote scholarships and networking opportunities. Which do you specifically have in Dubai?

Collaboration is central to the way we work and to the success we have enjoyed in the Middle East, so we have many active partnerships in place, with government organizations, professional bodies, business groups, education clusters, and media, each of which is richly rewarding. You cannot succeed without aligning what you are doing with the overall vision and strategy of Dubai and the UAE to develop a diversified knowledge economy, and so from the outset we have worked with government organizations, whilst professional associations help us stay close to businesses and our programs up to date and relevant by making sure we understand the needs and aspirations of working professionals. We enjoy healthy collaboration with other MBA providers to help foster a wider active network working for the good of the country. A prime example of our commitment to our hosts and of the potential for collaboration here is the Manchester Innovation Award for Emiratis, an initiative of MBS, designed to stimulate entrepreneurship and business innovation among UAE nationals and provide practical, academic, and financial support to develop the best ideas submitted by Emirati entrepreneurs into successful businesses. The Award enjoyed the support of Dubai International Academic City as well as many other leading organizations from the private and public sectors. Recent research shows that Dubai is the fourth most sought-after destination for education worldwide and we often partner with Dubai’s education clusters to promote Dubai as an education hub, at events and conferences. As a successful model of a global business school serving the region from Dubai, we actively promote the benefits of the partnership with Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, which has been central to our achievements. A major milestone in this successful partnership was the University of Manchester’s first MBA graduation ceremony in the Middle East, held in Dubai in 2013, and presided over by the Dean of MBS, Professor Fiona Devine. One particularly interesting set of collaborations has focused on the role and development of women in business in the region and we have been active promoters and supporters of those organizations recognizing this vital contribution, from regional awards recognizing the most influential women to sponsoring training programs for Dubai Women’s Council to encourage and help women set up their own businesses through the support of one of our own entrepreneurial students.

“The local and regional economy has matured and diversified and we have kept pace with this.”

What is Dubai doing in order to cement its status as an educational hub?

Dubai has taken many positive steps already to attract and support top quality education providers. When we wanted to set up our Middle East Centre in 2006, Dubai was the natural choice because of the strength of its “three Ts:” trade, tourism, and transportation. Dubai is very business-friendly and attracts top corporates and business service providers, as well as educated working professionals. Dubai International Academic City is the world’s first purpose-built facility for education providers, and now hosts more than 20 international branches of universities, the largest concentration anywhere in the world. As a partner of Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Knowledge City, this relationship has played a major role in our success and has led to the Middle East Centre becoming the largest and fastest growing center in the Manchester Business School international network, even larger than Shanghai and Manchester. There is an appetite and need for quality education providers in Dubai. MBS was the first top ranked business school to set up here, and received considerable support from Dubai and this support continues; Dubai is not taking its regional hub status for granted and it continues to involve its education partners and reinforce its regional hub status. Our students find everything they need here, from the world-class education that we provide, to high-quality infrastructure, transportation, and air connections. The creation of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which works closely with the education cluster, provides the reassurance that only quality education providers will operate here and receive support in the UAE. MBS has triple MBA accreditation and is often cited as a prime example of a successful, high-quality international education provider operating regionally from Dubai, and we are very proud to be held up as an example of what is possible. This has also led us to include Dubai as one of the four international host centers of MBS for students on our new Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program, launched in July 2014

How has the school changed in light of the diversification of the local economy?

The local and regional economy has matured and diversified and we have kept pace with this, offering more flexible MBA options and a broader range of formats that are market-led, to match the way that people increasingly live and work—collaboratively, remotely, and on the go; sometimes face to face, often virtually. Business people still want the familiar flexibility of a top global business school, but want more and faster global networking opportunities. They also look for customized options for their MBAs for greater professional and personal development. For example, our new GEMBA program, launched in July 2014, starts in Manchester, then moves to Shanghai, comes to Dubai, then to Miami, and ends in Manchester 20 months later. It focuses on personal development, international exposure, and intensive coaching, as well as academic rigor. We are also looking at diversifying our sectoral focus with an increasing emphasis on healthcare, for example, and introducing more products in the future.

Dubai has a number of universities as an educational hub. How do you value this competition?

We welcome quality institutions and the increased choice they bring and the strength they add to the education cluster and the regional hub from which we all benefit. Students select MBS for our values and the programs we offer, and there is a market for all of the schools here. We all have different models and these suit some candidates better than others. As regards UK educational providers, we are supporting an initiative to promote recognition of the UK education brand, working very closely with UKTI and the British Embassy, and we join forces with all quality education providers to promote what UK education has to offer.

The UAE government is spending more than 20% of GDP on education, but research is just a small part of it. What are your thoughts on this?

We know how important research is, and also how challenging it can be and it needs greater coordination between the public bodies and private government organizations, education and research organizations, and sponsors. Our MBA degrees are research based, and MBS is a first-class research organization. Our MBA students undertake research as part of their program and the majority of their academic credits are based on research undertaken here. Now we are working to see how we can publish this substantial body of accumulated local research and make it available to the public. We also sponsor our full-time MBA students from Manchester and bring them to the region to work on part of their international business project. As a sponsor and researcher, we were delighted to collaborate on a research project with Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, on the first research into the GCC market for executive education.

© The Business Year – July 2014



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