TBY talks to Mohanad A. Dahlan, CEO of UBT Company, on UBT Academy, measuring efficiency, and the Deanship of Scientific Research.

UBT recently set up UBT Academy, an English training institute franchise. How has this progressed in the last year?

The progress throughout the last year included approving the entire curriculum and recruiting the required manpower. In line with the strategy set out, UBT Academy signed an agreement with one of the largest IT consultancy firms to develop the IT policy and take it to the next level. We have developed a model for master franchises and aim to sign agreements in Bahrain, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates. UBT Academy targets six branches by the end of 2018 and another 12 branches by 2019. As soon as the model is implemented, replicating that model takes only three months, which is the same time required to develop the facility itself. Once UBT Academy is global, it will only be a matter of scale. We will either find an investor or simply invest in it ourselves, develop it for one year, and then sell it. This business and sector has enormous potential in the region. Institutes typically focus on the general public, teachers, or training professionals; however, none focus on the holistic approach of English training for the entire community. UBT Academy offers six different programs and a handful of institutes under one brand. It is an English institute, a training institute for teachers, and a school accreditation institute packaged into one franchise. The beauty of UBT Academy is the partnerships with the top publishers around the globe, creating a unique curriculum based on each country's requirements. The core business of UBT Academy is not to produce the content, but rather to adopt global best practices and leverage them. UBT Academy combines the best of the best together in one curriculum with the most qualified and competent staff and standards for assessment to create a learner experience.

UBT Co. has been developing its own system to measure all aspects of its performance. Can you tell us more about this?

UBT developed a model named Quswa. Currently being registered for property rights, Quswa is an effectiveness and efficiency initiative for universities that measures every detail, including water vapor, LED lights, and the cost of various activities. UBT was honored the Digital Excellence Award from Oracle in 2017, noting that UBT is the only university in the world that applies activity-based costing in its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation. Those that do not engage technology in their strategies will not reach far, sooner or later. UBT developed the ERP structure thanks to our global outreach and growth. Thus, UBT needed to standardize practices and measure both sources and resources that either incur costs or generate profits. Similar to a KPI audit, today we measure it all and are able to quantify a university from A to Z. UBT Co. is ready to diagnose any public or private university for free. UBT Co. aims to help other institutions—and society at large—to become more efficient and deliver better services.

The Saudi economy has had a difficult year, and yet you have many new directions and programs. How are you moving forward despite fiscal tightening?

The overall market, including that of the private higher education, is shrinking. However, UBT has not seen a drop, but rather increasing its market share. In late 2017, UBT College of Law was launched. UBT has reshaped the programs it provides, while introducing five new graduate programs. In terms of employability rate of our graduates, UBT is the pioneer in meeting the needs of the market. Based on a recent survey, 78% of our graduates are employed—leading to the highest number in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. UBT graduates receive their first full-time job within six months of graduation on average. Founded in 2011, the 4th batch of our UBT College of Advertising is graduating next term, with 100% of the students already employed.

UBT has created a new Deanship for Research and has invested significantly in research. How does this contribute to your long-term vision?

UBT Deanship of Scientific Research today has seven flagships. All the 250 faculty members of the University have been required to participate in two or more research activities per year. Based on a vision of inclusion, every UBT researcher is part of a group that conducts research on six different levels of the seven flagships. UBT is the sole university in Saudi Arabia that does so, focusing research on community service, economic development, business and finance, state-of-the-art technology, the environment and sustainability, and advertising. UBT leverages its colleges of law, engineering, business administration, and advertising, and sets forth the research topics to each college so that it is ready for the target industry and market. With a clear plan envisioned to the year 2050, this will play an increasing role in our UBT activities and revenues, given that commercializing technologies is a long process.

What is your outlook for 2018 for the holding company?

We are expecting to commercialize the five new developed Masters of Science (MSc) programs once approved by the Ministry by the end of 2018. We are currently building a state-of-the-art Campus for female students. UBT Academy will be responding to the high market demand for English language learning. UBT Co. works significantly on a one-to-one basis, providing an intellectually stimulating, inspiring, and innovating model. There will be a mobile application that will bring UBT Academy closer to users, who can receive feedback for every assessment and stay connected with the alumni, along with the local and global communities. These are some of our key movements for the year ahead in line with the vocational goals of Vision 2030.