Master of the class

With a raft of local executives educated at top business schools abroad, a high standard of qualifications is increasingly common across regional CEOs. Nigel Banister, chief executive of Manchester Business School, opens his textbook and teaches James Bennett about the launch of MBS Dubai and how he is set to play a substantial role in developing the managers and leaders of tomorrow

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By  James Bennett Published  June 6, 2006

|~||~||~|Like it or not, education is a marketplace and the Middle East is a prime example with private business education a core component of everyday life, no matter what your age or aspirations. For local students who want to become CEOs or local managers who want to further their careers and gain more skills and knowledge to send them hurtling up the corporate ladder, a Masters of Business Administration course, more commonly known as an MBA, can be the ideal solution. Nigel Banister, CEO of Manchester Business School worldwide (MBS), the largest of its kind in the UK, and affiliated to the largest UK ‘super university’ thanks to the merger of the University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) 18 months ago, is here to do just that – sell the qualification across the Middle East, using Dubai as the school’s regional hub. Launched earlier this year, MBS Dubai has so far attracted 50 students, however Banister has high hopes that the UAE’s regional powerhouse can replicate MBS’s other prime international locations. “In more established centres in Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, we have approaching 1000 students in any one year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do that here. If we do that we’ll be playing a substantial role in the management and leadership development of the region,” he says. “A good MBA is almost becoming a prerequisite for a serious business career from an employer and an executive point of view.” Located in Dubai’s expanding Knowledge Village, Banister says that MBS’s business courses, ranked 22nd in the world, will play on the increased global and regional demand for part-time and distance-learning MBAs that students of any age can complete in three years, compared to the more campus orientated 18 months. “There’s a big growth in part-time education for MBAs for executives all over the world because the quality has improved, particularly in the top business schools. Secondly, many employers are seeing it as a good alternative to losing staff who leave to do full-time MBAs and then having to replace them,” explains Banister. “Thirdly, rather than having isolated executive training courses on particular subject areas, linking all these aspects together into an MBA course gives a much wider strategic view for executives, and this is becoming much more recognised. Companies are sponsoring students either in blocks or individually to go through part-time MBA courses,” he adds. Dubai was an easy choice for MBS and ticked all the right boxes in the same way its other international locations did in the past, says Banister. “We look for growth areas in the world that have got a solid infrastructure, a healthy and growing business climate, areas of skills development that are being supported by government and businesses that are facing huge challenges through positive change.” Courses may well be worth their weight in gold on completion with the average student earning three times more than when he or she first picked up pen and paper, but priced at around AED92,000 they are still a costly option. But not just for students, says Banister. “With part-time courses in various locations across the world we have to fly tutors over here.” Banister says there are cheaper and shorter MBA courses that Middle Eastern students can choose from but that as a top business school, one of only three UK business schools in the top 25 in the world, “you expect the course to be academically thorough and to touch star quality”. “Our 20,000 alumni are well placed in corporations and institutions around the world, so you can build up a good network of friends and colleagues once you’ve graduated. The course has lots of elements to it and some are more costly to provide than the lesser ranked courses, and we don’t skimp on that.” Since taking over as chief executive as the merger of both universities was in the process of going through 18 months ago, Banister has already chalked up an impressive list of achievements on the MBS blackboard, tripling the number of students undertaking part-time MBAs, and spreading the word on the importance of global executive distance learning. A qualified stockbroker, Banister is predominantly a change and IT expert and previous to MBS was involved in major online learning initiatives. He was also at the forefront of introducing electronic trading to the City business district in London. However, he now knows that he has to take his own knowledge and experience and drive standards up even further – a tough task in one of the fastest changing markets in the world. “Not to take anything away from traditional teaching methods, but if you were to look at the future of part-time MBAs you’d see the effect of globalisation, linking up with other schools to jointly teach MBAs. You would see a push towards a more practical approach, doing more recognised academic research, having larger number of students, bigger budgets and being dominant in all ways. I want to achieve that,” he says. Embracing and investing in new technology is another target on Banister’s personal curriculum, however the prospect of appealing to the entire region’s future top-flight CEOs in one of the fastest growing economies in the world really sets the pulse racing, he says. “I worked in Singapore for five years and have noticed a lot of similarities with Dubai. One of the things that Singapore taught me was to set tremendously ambitious goals and work extremely hard to achieve them. And many have been achieved,” he says. “I’ve already noticed in Dubai’s executives that they are setting higher goals than they would do in countries that have a lot more long-term economic stability and less growth potential – that suits me very well and I feel very comfortable with that.” If Dubai and the region continue to grow at such a rapid pace, students and Middle East CEOs of the future are sure to embrace better and more advanced business courses and schools and give their western counterparts even more to think about.||**||

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