For those Lebanese looking to study business in the world’s top educational institutions, the first step is often the QS World Tour’s annual visit to Beirut, taking place today. Leading business schools, including Fordham University, INSEAD and others, have sent representatives to meet the country’s rising stars in the hope of finding the right students for their institutions. Paras Fatnani, QS’ Marketing Managing for the United Kingdom and the Middle East, spoke to Executive about developing Lebanon’s education system.
Who can apply for MBAs and what support do you offer them?
The MBAs are for people who have at least a year or two of work experience and are looking to pursue higher education. While Lebanon for us is a small market, we keep coming back because we feel that there is very high potential in terms of the quality of candidates. We have a number of things that we do alongside [running meeting days], including educating people. We also offer [globally] an annual scholarship fund of $1.2 million every year for students looking to study abroad.
How much of that usually goes to the Middle East?
It really depends on quality, we don’t judge based on country — one of the key [rules] is that until the application is successful no candidate details are revealed. Having said that there are also some regional scholarships.
Are students in Lebanon still primarily interested in going to the United States and Europe to study, rather than the Gulf?
We do a lot of research and one key aspect which we pointed out last year in [our] findings was that in the Middle East there was higher earning potential [than Europe and America] for MBA graduates coming to work there, whether that be locals or foreigners.
As such, do you think attitudes towards business education are changing in the region?
Yes, I think they are and I think the demand for MBAs — qualified MBAs — is changing as well. People are valuing that a bit more and they are bringing an international flavor to the table. Most MBA programs try to cultivate the feeling of working together with people from different parts of the world.
When you talk about education in the Middle East, you are primarily talking about the Gulf — in terms of education infrastructure the Gulf is a long way ahead. What can Lebanon, Egypt and other countries do to catch up?
Lebanon I would put as high as the [United Arab Emirates] and Saudi Arabia when it comes to potential to grow in terms of education structure, because there are a few Lebanese who have the vision to make it to that level. Talking about improvements I believe there is potential because you have got a very strong undergraduate education here — you have good universities like [the American University of Beirut] and others. Going towards the post-graduate side, what happens is people tend to go out [of Lebanon] or lose out.
What are the areas where Lebanon lags behind?
The advantage clearly is the language — English being so profoundly spoken here, it makes it easy to feel a part of it. There are a few disadvantages– one of which unfortunately is the security scenario. That is something that influences people.
I think while attitudes are changing they are not changing fast enough — there is not enough effort being made by the universities to say ‘we are not what you think, but this is what you can do.
Gulf governments have been very proactive in building education hubs. Do you feel there could be more from the Lebanese government?
Yes. There are two sides to it — one you can talk about cultivating talent, so when we are talking about students there should be more scholarships available. If you look at Saudi Arabia, students have a very strong chance of getting a scholarship once they get to universities that are acknowledged. The other side is the government can support the initiatives of local universities here so they can attract students from other countries as well.
Those interested in learning more about doing an MBA can attend the event at the Crowne Plaza today at 4.30