Nov. 17, 2015

Randa Bessiso

UAE, Dubai

Randa Bessiso

Director—Middle East, Manchester Business School (MBS)

"The UAE and Dubai are at the heart of a large region full of potential business education."


Randa Bessiso has spent much of her career working on market entry strategies, company start-ups, and channel development programs, as well as building profitable regional businesses and brands. Most recently, she has focused on management education, an area in which she has more than 20 years of experience including as Founding Director of Manchester Business School (MBS) Middle East Centre. Randa was recognized as one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women by Forbes Middle East, in 2015, after being listed for the first time in 2014. The Forbes awards were in recognition of her work in founding and building the MBS Middle East Centre into the largest and fastest growing in the MBS international network, and a UK higher education success story.

What is the reason behind the recent change of name of MBS?

The UK campus-based business school has been renamed Alliance Manchester Business School following the generous and substantial donation by Lord Alliance of Manchester, which is the culmination of a long history of collaboration and support to the University and alumni as a whole. The MBS regional centers, including the Middle East, will continue as Manchester Business School centers, primarily because they will be rebranded as University of Manchester (UoM) centers from 2017. We will move to the UoM branding directly rather than taking another interim branding step. Alongside this rebranding process, we will extend the academic offering to include programs from other departments in the university, beyond just the business school. Our success in the Middle East and other regional centers has encouraged schools within the university to look at offering programs and services across the international network established by MBS. This is very positive news for the University and for the regions, which will benefit from access to the wider programs from the UoM. This organic growth reflects the success of the MBS international network, which has created the opportunity and platform for the entire university to harness. So, in the Middle East and across the international network, we will remain as Manchester Business School until we rebrand to the University of Manchester, and from then of course we will continue to represent and support Alliance Manchester Business School, as well as other schools in the university.

Have you already thought about which programs you will implement here in the center in Dubai?

The UoM has been very active in considering the types of programs that may be successful within the Middle East and we have held discussions with a number of schools, which has ultimately encouraged the university to move closer to the region. Our role has been to share our experience and knowledge of the region with our academic colleagues, based on almost 10 years of operating in Dubai. As with the business school, the university is taking a market-led approach to ensure that we meet the knowledge and training needs of the region, now and in the future, as defined by the public and private sectors. This is influenced by the visions of the regional governments, which are committed to economic diversification and moving toward knowledge-based economies and societies. The focus has been on the education and healthcare sectors, which are especially active. So, we have held initial discussions with the pharmacy school and also looked at the teacher training needs of the region to support capacity building in education. But there is broad interest within the university and we have spoken to a range of schools, from law to healthcare.

There has been a rapid growth of interest in MBAs in the UAE. What do you attribute this to?

The UAE and Dubai are at the heart of a large region full of potential business education and MBA candidates, who are well educated, relatively affluent working professionals looking for an exceptional learning program and experience. Dubai's regional business hub status creates a rich business ecosystem, attracting global professional organisations that also choose to operate from Dubai, such as ACCA, CIMA, IMA, and PMI. Through radical innovation, the UAE has already attracted top business schools to the country for the benefit of the region, creating access to high-quality learning opportunities. A number of top educational institutions offer a variety of MBA options and increasing choice for students, in terms of program focus, content, and learning format. Such flexibility is good both for students, who can choose the best fit to meet their personal needs, and for businesses in the region, which are competing for well-educated and motivated talent to join their ranks. Demand for the MBA degree among working professionals in the region remains strong, supported by our own experience. Today, the MBS Middle East Centre is the largest and fastest growing in the school's international network, supporting more than 1,900 part-time MBA students in the region. Around 30% of these students are already in C-level and senior management positions and around 10% are already educated to Master's level, underscoring the quality of the talent already living and working in the region. With top companies and talent already here and more coming, it is critical that business programs in the region meet working professionals' demands for a high-quality and rich student experiences, exposure to top faculty, and the delivery of a globally recognized and accredited program and qualification. Educational offerings must feature customizable content and be delivered in flexible formats whilst incorporating a high degree of face-to-face contact with student peers and faculty. As the business education market in the UAE continues to mature, more MBA choices—and alternatives—have been made available to students and this is likely to continue. The UAE's buoyant economy, supported by world-class communications, infrastructure, services, and leisure, further sparked by World Expo 2020, will certainly lead to enhanced career opportunities, with more than 250,000 new jobs to be created, according to estimates. All of this emphasizes the strong outlook for the future of business education in the region and confirms that all the ingredients are here to support its continued development and contribution to the UAE's emerging knowledge economy.

MBS Middle East Centre launched a research program into the drivers and barriers of innovation in the GCC. How will this research contribute to the GCC and Dubai?

As the GCC moves through economic and digital transformation and diversifies toward a knowledge economy, creativity and innovation will move up the agenda for business and governments. Technology is disrupting many industries and creating new ones, whilst changing the relationship between citizens and government. Innovation will be central to supporting the ambitious economic growth objectives of all the GCC countries. MBS is a research-driven business school focusing on practical solutions and this ground-breaking research aims to help the region better understand and harness its vast creative potential. In April 2015, MBS Middle East Centre launched what is believed to be the first in-depth research into the drivers and barriers to creativity and innovation in the cultural context of the GCC. The program kicked off with focus groups in the GCC as part of the research design process. The research program has been launched to mark MBS' 50th anniversary in 2015 and, in the UAE, to coincide with the Year of Innovation. MBS believes that creativity is recognized as the key skill for success in the 21st century, but understanding the context of people and culture is vital to nurturing it effectively. This customized regional research program will produce powerful, practical research to understand the drivers and barriers to creativity and innovation in the unique context of the GCC. Creativity is the capacity to develop ideas to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities. It is essential in every part of an organization because it is the driver of innovation in products, processes, and services and is central to a thriving economy and society. Managing and leading people to encourage creativity and innovation is a key theme for countries and businesses in the GCC. Creativity and innovation do not happen in a vacuum. Cultivating, leading, and managing creativity is difficult and understanding the cultural context, i.e. the beliefs, behaviors, and background of the GCC is essential. Copying Western approaches just doesn't work. The MBS research will explore creativity and innovation in the region at the level of the organization, team, and individual through a blend of qualitative and quantitative research. We have also worked with our strategic partners and with different associations across the GCC to collect the data, and the program will take around one year to complete. The outcomes will continue to be disseminated in different ways; in an executive summary, a fully fledged research report, and small seminars and workshops. The findings will inform the development of innovative teams and organizations and encourage a work culture that promotes creativity and that will benefit the entire GCC.