Like all other fields of activity, the pursuit of knowledge in Lebanon has suffered under the turbulences of spring 2005. A Beirut trade show on education and professional training options had to be cancelled in February and attendance at continued education programs dropped. But providers say that interest is back and programs are running at speed.
As new challenges await job seekers, employees and companies in the Lebanese economy, the time is actually highly suited to check out current qualification options that augment the classical university education path. This spectrum was widened considerably over the past few years and extends today to a dazzling range of training choices. Locally, providers of continued education come from both the traditional university track of academia and more business-centric commercial training companies. As the field of providers is getting stronger and ever more capable, however, institutions in both these realms have adopted increasingly similar approaches as far as meeting the need for practical applicability of knowledge, delivering quality and value for money, and tailoring their programs to the scheduling and qualification requirements of companies and employees.
Programs concentrate primarily on managerial, financial, and technical qualifications where both general and highly specified skills can be acquired and certified. As the provision of continued training entails furthermore a strong international dimension, the offering increasingly includes very sophisticated programs developed by leading global education brands that address business leadership issues in short and super intensive power seminars.
Amidst the increased number of training options the paradigm of life-long learning as hallmark of leadership in business is contained in its purest form in university curricula leading to an Executive Masters in Business Administration (E-MBA). Introduced in Lebanon in the last few years, a number of local E-MBA programs at universities here aim to address the needs of business owners and managers who want to hone the skills they have already acquired in running a company or department and who have to juggle career and education at the same time. A small portion of these programs can be regarded as meeting the top worldwide standards for an E-MBA.
The first entrenched Lebanese institution to offer an Executive MBA of international standing was the Lebanese American University (LAU), which launched its initial E-MBA class in 2000. The university designed the program to be taught year-round in courses each comprising two Saturdays of class attendance. Skills and management specialties taught in the program include accounting, banking and finance, economics and statistics, management, and marketing.
The E-MBA program at LAU graduates 25 participants per year, with a majority of the enrolled being Lebanese, Elias Raad, director of the program, told EXECUTIVE. For the time being, the university does not aim to expand the program but LAU is actively seeking an increase of corporate partners who would send participating executives.
A very ambitious E-MBA program was inaugurated one year ago at the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut. Its first class will graduate this summer. From the outset, the program was structured into modules that make attendance for out-of-town participants as easy as possible and enrollment by regional business executives is above 50%, according to program coordinator, Imad Zbib.
AUB relies on a mix of own faculty and visiting international experts to teach at the program. Describing the first year of experience with the new E-MBA as winning model with room for further improvement, Zbib reported that recognition of the program throughout the region was already astonishingly high. “Getting more and more applications is a sign of success,” he said.
The Ecole Superieure des Affaires (ESA) offers an E-MBA program taught largely by professors from the leading French business schools it stands in affiliation with. Launched with the start of ESA operations in 1998, the E-MBA leads to a double diploma from ESA and the ESCP-EAP European School of Management.
In the creation of the ESA E-MBA, the objective was to give Lebanese individuals the chance to obtain high-level European business qualification in Beirut, according to ESA director of communications, Georges Najm. At a cost of just under $10,000 for the 18-month program, the degree can be obtained here for a fraction of the 30,000 euros that participants pay in France, he said.
Along with the entire ESA portfolio of MBA and specialized Masters programs (most recent addition: a Masters in Hospital and Health Management), the framework for the E-MBA program underwent changes in 2004 when the institution adapted its entry requirements to the new European structure of tertiary education. The modification links ESA with the European transfer credit system, which harmonizes graduation standards at three (license/degree), five (Masters) and eight (doctorate) years of required study.
At $500 and $645 per credit hour, the E-MBA programs at LAU and AUB are situated at the pinnacle of the education cost pyramid in Lebanon. But given the intensity of the program and the variety of expertise that the participants at the AUB program are exposed to – each class of 20 E-MBA students receives lectures from at least 30 different top instructors, meaning the teacher to student ratio is 1.5 to 1 – Zbib sees no problem in justifying the program fees. “We had no complaints about tuition,” he said. “In fact I often hear students say that costs are reasonable.”
In addition to the E-MBA offerings, the leading universities are launching new programs this year. LAU has adopted a course that prepares its participants to acquire certification as Information Systems Auditor. According to the university, the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) qualification is the best internationally recognized sign of excellence in information technology assurance services (auditing), security and governance. Coming from either information technology or auditing backgrounds, IT auditors are generally in demand in the financial industry, ICT companies, universities, and in the public sector. In Lebanon, to date only 33 persons hold the certification.
The new CISA preparation course at LAU comprises 60 hours, inclusive of mock exams, and the university expects as participants young professionals who are looking to enhance their career prospects and who want to be among the privileged CISAs in the country. Standard cost of the course is $1,250.
Specialization in Islamic finance is the focus of a new project at ESA that was announced in the second half of last month. Created by the CRED Research and Doctoral Studies Center at ESA, Al Multaqa is a foundation with the mission to develop and improve the understanding of Islamic finance. Activities at the foundation are scheduled to commence later this spring and will entail the organization of training seminars and lectures on the increasingly important realm of Islamic finance as well as creation of an important database related to this issue. According to ESA, the activities of Al Mutaqa will be carried out in close collaboration with companies and banks specialized in Islamic finance.
Financial skills are the focus of several courses of professional training by specialized commercial institutions. Among the best-established programs are the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) courses offered by a small number of providers in Lebanon.
According to training company Becker Conviser, CFAs in Lebanon work in the pure side of finance, namely banking and investment companies, in portfolio management and to a small extent in insurance companies. The attrition rate at the three-level courses is high and out of a starting batch of about 120, some 10% of CFA students typically accomplish the final level.
After achieving the internationally recognized CFA degree, the financial analysts find a much larger job market and higher salaries in the Gulf region where, depending on the degree of experience, starting salaries of $6,000 to $10,000 per month are realistic. In the small Lebanese market for the profession, salaries of $2,000 to $4,000 are the norm.
The market for certified public accountants is more developed in Lebanon and there is a consistent high demand for auditors. A typical career path of a university graduate in this field entails working for a few years with a major audit firm and then move up by achieving the CPA degree. A CPA in Lebanon commands a monthly salary of up to $2,500 in an audit firm and up to $3,500 in the private sector, according to estimates by Becker Conviser. A recent program offered since July 2004 by the firm in Lebanon is the Certified Management Accountant, CMA, which equips graduates with skills in managerial accounting and has good demand in Lebanese companies. Managers, accountants or financial managers are the target group for this six-month program, which requires participants to budget about $3,000 in their education investment. A CPA costs about $5,000 and a CFA about $6,000 in course fees and materials. CPA graduates have to sit for their exams in the United States.
Corporate sponsorship of continued education for individual managers appears to still account for a smaller share of the professional training activities in Lebanon when compared to individual enrollment by people seeking to enhance their career chances. However, according to Fay Niewiadomski, managing director and senior consultant at training firm ICTN, the awareness of training is growing in the corporate sector. “Businesses are realizing that training and consulting services are adding value and profits to their operation; however these need to be identified and customized to their needs. Companies are beginning to create human resources (HR) departments instead of relying on a personnel manager to deal with the ever-increasing complexities of talent and proper job placement,” she said.
ICTN is one of several firms that are expanding their portfolio of training programs, next to offering consulting and in-house training services to companies in areas such as quality management. Examples for new courses by ICTN this year are a seminar introducing the Balanced ScoreCard method (a performance management system) developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, which was held last month, and an upcoming Project Management workshop, which guides participants through all stages of managing a project from its definition and initiation to its completion.
According to ICTN, the Balanced ScoreCard framework helps organizations translate strategy into operational objectives that drive both behavior and performance. The project management workshop aims to equip managers and members in a project team with the tools to accomplish projects on time and reduce the worry and effort involved in each project. With target audiences of present and future managers, such localized courses of no more than five days in duration offer education value at a low risk of investing about $250 per day.
But for those seeking to ascend to the Olympus of continued education these days, power seminars in executive training by the world’s leading business schools are the ticket. Whether assimilating new insights about breakthrough performance across the value chain in a seminar titled “Driving Strategic Innovation” organized by MIT-Sloan and the IMD in Lausanne this month or gearing up to conquer new business victories by attending “Women Leading Business: Innovation and Success” next month at Harvard Business School, the latest trend in learning for senior executives is the intensive, short-time course with top educators and fellow business leaders.
The promise of these programs to business leaders is to change the way they think, act and shape corporate culture in their organization. Under this general header, business executives can chose from a multitude of topics from highly reputed business schools, if they are willing to invest typically between $5,000 and about $8,000 for a week or less of training, plus travel and accommodation expenses.