The Future of Business Schools in the MENA Region

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Monday, February 27, 2023
By George Sammour
Photo by iStock/artisteer
To remain relevant in today’s business environment, schools in the Middle East and North Africa must provide students with digital and human skills.
  • The rapid growth of e-commerce in MENA nations means companies want to hire tech-savvy managers and workers.
  • But businesses in this diverse region also need students with soft skills such as the ability to communicate across cultures and speak multiple languages.
  • Business graduates also should have a grounding in crucial topics such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

The world is facing multiple macroeconomic challenges driven mainly by international conflict, high inflation, and an uncertain economic outlook. In light of these difficulties, critics in the public and private sectors are asking a key question: How relevant are business school programs today?

The COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the digitization of higher education, also prompted many business schools to reevaluate their business propositions. To address the needs of today’s workforce, business schools know they must help undergraduates acquire skill sets that have been identified as valuable by both job seekers and employers. This means they must focus on practice as well as theory.

At the King Talal School of Business Technology (KTSBT) at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, Jordan, we are particularly interested in the skill sets demanded by businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We know that, if MENA business schools want to remain relevant, they must prepare students for the future by developing both their digital and human-centered skills.

A Focus on Digital Competence

In MENA countries, some of the most sought-after employees will be those who are competent in a wide variety of digital tools and platforms. In this part of the world, the rapid advancement of technology has led to significant changes in the way businesses operate. For instance, the swift growth of e-commerce in the region means that businesses need managers who can effectively use digital technologies and platforms to reach new customers and expand their markets.

In addition, technology has opened new opportunities for growth and innovation in the region and impacted the way people perform their work. Companies need employees who can harness the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate processes, make operations more efficient, and improve business performance. Business leaders also need employees with knowledge of cybersecurity to protect both organizations and their customers from cyber threats.

But technological advances have not been evenly distributed across the MENA region, where some countries have highly developed infrastructures and better access to technology than others. This digital divide has led to a growing demand for business students who can use their expertise in coding, data analysis, cybersecurity, and digital marketing to help companies in their countries catch up. Therefore, business schools have a massive opportunity to produce the graduates that regional businesses need.

The Human Touch

While it’s essential for MENA business students to be proficient in technology, they also should develop more human-related skills that will be in high demand at companies throughout the region. Six skills will be most valuable:

Entrepreneurial ability. As the region hosts a growing number of startups, entrepreneurs will need to have a basic understanding of how to create and grow their businesses. They must be able to think creatively, pursue innovation, and identify new opportunities in the market.

Cross-cultural communication and collaboration. The MENA region is a diverse and rapidly globalizing area, so it is important for students to learn how to communicate and work effectively with people from different cultures.

Language skills. Similarly, in a region as diverse as MENA, it will be crucial for managers to know how to speak to many different people. Schools will need to prioritize language education and create opportunities for students to practice speaking and writing in several languages.

The MENA region is a diverse and rapidly globalizing region, so students must learn how to communicate and work effectively with people from different cultures.

Adaptability and flexibility. Because the business environment in the MENA region is constantly evolving, business students must learn how to respond quickly to new technologies, changing market conditions, sudden challenges, and unexpected opportunities.

Strong analytical and problem-solving skills. In this volatile business environment, students also will need to be able to make strategic decisions and navigate complex challenges.

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Future business leaders need to be aware of the impact their decisions have on the environment and society.

Areas of Emphasis

It might be particularly critical for schools to focus on two specific areas if they want to remain relevant. First, the topic of sustainability is growing increasingly important for businesses and for the organizations that serve higher education.

For instance, AACSB’s 2020 accreditation standards require schools to identify a strategic intention around societal impact. The association recognizes many different frameworks for this objective, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to improve the world by eliminating poverty, mitigating climate change, and achieving other ambitious goals by 2030. At the same time, international university ranking organizations—such as QS and Times Higher Education—have begun to assess universities’ impact against the SDGs.

This means that business schools in the MENA region could find it beneficial to integrate the SDGs into their curricula, align their teaching philosophies with the goals, and update their course content to teach responsible leadership in the context of the SDGs.

Second, cross-cultural communication has become a vital part of many college campuses as schools take steps to integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into their cultures. Because schools and businesses in the MENA region include people of so many different backgrounds, it is essential for students to learn how to communicate with and respect others who are not like them.

Our School’s Approach

At KTSBT, we understand the value of producing highly qualified business technology graduates who are capable of learning new skills and have the knowledge that employers require. In 2015, KTSBT started aligning its programs with the needs of the job market by creating partnerships with public and private business organizations. We put more emphasis on inviting in professional guest speakers, promoting a culture of working students, organizing annual career workshops and conferences, and creating partnerships and joint degree programs with international educational institutions.

We also introduced new courses to provide students with in-demand skills. One, an entrepreneurship course, teaches students how to start and grow a business. It covers topics such as idea generation and opportunity identification, business planning and strategy, marketing and sales, financial management, operations management, legal and regulatory issues, entrepreneurial mindset, and networking and mentorship.

A second course teaches the life skills students will need to navigate through and thrive in the 21st century. It includes sessions on critical thinking and problem-solving, communication, time management, emotional intelligence, self-care, and global citizenship.

A life skills course focuses on critical thinking and problem-solving, communication, time management, emotional intelligence, self-care, and global citizenship.

Finally, KTSBT recently mapped its curricula, programs, and learning outcomes to the SDGs to encourage research on sustainability, innovation, corporate responsibility, impact entrepreneurship, and corporate leadership.

These efforts ensure that our students are suited for jobs in the modern world: Currently, the employment rate at the university is 93 percent, and most students secure jobs within six months of graduation.

The Students’ Role

Students bear part of the responsibility for making sure they are prepared for their careers after graduation. At KTSBT, we recommend that they take the following actions:

  • Enroll in courses that are directly related to the digital and human skills they wish to develop. These might include classes in areas such as IT, data analysis, digital marketing, project management, and human resources.
  • Seek opportunities to gain hands-on experience in their chosen fields. Internships, co-op programs, and volunteer positions all allow them to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.
  • Focus on developing soft skills such as communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Students can develop these skills by participating in group projects, joining mentorship programs, or working on teams.
  • Network with professionals in their chosen fields by attending industry events, joining professional organizations, or reaching out over LinkedIn.
  • Be open to learning new technologies, and be ready for changes in the industry. Students can keep their skills up-to-date by attending workshops and webinars and by staying informed about the latest trends in their fields.

Ready for What Comes Next

In a rapidly changing business environment, both schools and students need to make sure they are always looking toward the future. Students have a responsibility to engage in lifelong learning and professional development. By continuing their education, networking, gaining hands-on experience, and being adaptable, students will ensure that their digital and human skills remain fresh and relevant throughout their careers.

Business schools have a responsibility, too. They must offer students the degree programs that prepare them for the future, but they should also consider adding shorter, focused courses that provide the microcredentials students need to stay current in their jobs. By always looking toward the future, business schools and their graduates will maintain their reputations, their competitiveness, and their value for employers.

George Sammour
Associate Professor, Dean of King Talal School of Business Technology, Princess Sumaya University for Technology
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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