JEDDAH: The education scenario in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has changed in recent years. More than ever, women are taking a lead in education, especially in business courses such as the MBA (Masters of Business Administration).
The Kingdom has seen an influx of female students take an interest in business education, nationally and internationally. UNESCO and Saudi government figures show that women make up 58 percent of the total student population at universities. As a direct result of the need in the Saudi market to cater for female students, Effat University (Jeddah) in collaboration with Spain’s highly regarded IE Business School is offering a MBA program exclusively for women.
According to recent findings by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research, Saudi businesswomen are a better-educated group than the general Saudi workforce.
Fifty-eight percent of businesswomen have pursued a postsecondary degree, where three out of 10 have completed abroad. The study also notes that Saudi businesswomen are “significantly more likely to be the sole owners of their business than are businesswomen from Middle East and North Africa”.
With personal wealth estimated at SR65 billion ($17.33 billion), “Saudi women have a great potential to play a major role in their country’s economic development”, said Saudi businesswoman Samia Al Edrisi, CEO of Eastern Forum Company Ltd for Advancement and Development.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Planning has also reported a growth in the number of female students in recent years. In 2007, a forum called “The Reality of Women’s Participation in National Development” took place with around 1,000 female participants.
“The forum indicated possibilities, made possible through the economic and social empowerment of women, to use the vast amount of wealth owned by the Saudi female population for progressive and lucrative purposes,” said Katie Rodgers, head of New Development Projects, Asteco Property Management Company. “There are some 200,000 businesswomen in the Kingdom and some 21 percent of total private investments are already held by women,” she added.
The Saudi government has been trying its best to improve the overall education system. Reforming the educational system has become a priority and a great challenge for the Saudi government, according to a report by Booz & Co. in 2008. “Over the past 40 years, the government has succeeded in building an educational infrastructure, leading to an increase in school and university enrolment and a reduction in illiteracy,” said Mona AlMunajjed, senior adviser at Booz & Company, Ideation Center.
Despite the developments within the country through numerous universities, online MBAs offered by international institutes have become immensely popular in the region. With the female community being proactive in starting business while also having to adhere to certain religious and cultural notions, online MBA programs from institutions such as University of Liverpool have offered a solution to achieve an internationally acclaimed education.
However, Saudi women are now eager to step outside and pursue the education of their choice in an academic environment as opposed to their homes. Financial security and a quality education would give Saudi female entrepreneurs the edge they need in the business world today.
The Kingdom has started opening itself up through independently organized events by international universities and tours such the QS World MBA Tour, which brings the top business schools from all over the world under one banner.
The first QS World MBA Tour in Riyadh will be held Dec. 13 (Monday) for both male and female candidates and in Manama, Bahrain Dec. 15. For more details and to register for free, go to www.topmba.com
– The writer is a contributor to topmba.com