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Saudi Arabia 2017 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohanad A. Dahlan, CEO of University of Business and Technology (UBT) Company, on the evolution of the company, education investments, and upcoming sectors that will need support from the sector.

Mohanad A. Dahlan
BIOGRAPHY
Currently CEO of UBT Company, Mohanad A. Dahlan is an experienced and performance-driven executive with a demonstrated 14-year history of working in a multinational environment with international exposure in five countries. His experience includes trainings, certifications, and degrees in various business related aspects–most recent of which is a certificate focused in corporate social responsibility strategies for creating business and social value delivered by Harvard Business School. A skilled negotiator and business developer, he is experienced with analytics and financial modeling, coaching, and team building.

Given your family's long history in education, how is the current period different, and how has your business grown?

UBT Company is focused on investments, consultation, and operations for higher education, professional training, and knowledge transfer beyond high school. The company holds all of its endeavors as an investment firm, including the eponymous university. We focus on undergraduate, graduate, and executive education. I come from a family that has chosen education as a career for over hundreds of years. My brothers, sister, father, uncle, grandfather, and his brothers are all educators, and my ancestors have pursued this profession for many generations. However, today we are operating with the first for-profit business model that the family has ever used. We believe in sustainability, and a business model must underpin any sustainable operation.

Aside from UBT, what are your key investments today?

Today, there is a greater mix of higher education, training, and vocational education. In line with that, we have invested in new sectors through our new brand called UBT Academy, encompassing English Institutes and the Higher Training Institute. The latter will provide knowledge and skills required to enter a job directly, without any extra information. They will be completely job focused. In May, we will announce these new schools after getting curriculums developed and approved by the Ministry of Education and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), respectively. We will operate the English Institutes on a franchise basis throughout the GCC. We are keen to find investors who would like to promote quality English language education.

Vision 2030 has a clear vocational and training component, as well as a clear intention to increase private participation in the sector. Are these investments a reaction to those plans?

They want to see proportionally fewer students in universities because current universities simply do not meet the needs of the market. Today, the country needs to quickly and efficiently equip large numbers of young people to do specific jobs. Right now, vocational and training schools are seen as the most effective way to provide careers for the Saudi youth. That is why we are investing in the vocational business and training and leveraging our existing resources in line with Vision 2030's goals. We find more than 85,000 teachers in the region qualified to receive teacher training and self-development, and we want to produce the best teachers.

Is it a challenge to meet the demands and requirements of the private sector, and how do you deduct which skills are in demand?

We review the course content of our programs every year to ensure each is in line with international programs and processes. For example, we have recently been approved to deliver 26 new minor programs for the engineering college that cater to tomorrow's engineering and technology needs, not only today's. Also, we are the only university in the Middle East that has an advertising school, and yet advertising is a USD24 billion market in which 94% of it is an outflow of cash because the advertisers and agencies are not Saudi. We want to change that, and our innovation in this area speaks to our awareness of the market's needs. Our first batch of around 60 students just graduated, and they are all either employed or self-employed. That is the highest employment rate for a graduating class we have reached in 16 years. The Jeddah College of Advertising was created in partnership with Bucks New University in the UK. We learned for six months in the UK, going from one agency to another, and then we applied our findings here. For each of our programs, we tailor our operations to address market and employment needs, and, in September 2017, we will have a set of newly reviewed programs that ensure our graduates become better equipped for the market than they have ever been.