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Tough economic conditions increases demand for postgrad courses

One in four Middle East professionals plan to take a postgraduate degree in the next two years, a trend that has accelerated due to the slowdown in the job market following the collapse in oil prices.

Many professionals are driven by a desire to improve their career prospects, according to the latest research released by online recruitment firm GulfTalent.

The findings are based on a comprehensive survey of 8,000 professionals based in nine countries across the Middle East.

According to the survey findings, 16 per cent of professionals planning advanced studies are motivated by a desire to improve their chances of a promotion with their current employer, while 17 per cent believe it will help them get a better job with another employer in the same field. A further 10 per cent see postgraduate study as a bridge to a completely different field of work.

Some universities interviewed by GulfTalent reported a surge in applications for postgraduate courses from professionals in the hard-hit oil and gas sector, as many seek to re-train in order to switch to other industries.

Business administration is by far the most popular subject area for professionals seeking post-graduate study, with 32 per cent favouring it. MBA specifically is the single most popular academic qualification, targeted by over 10 per cent of professionals planning to study.

Next are engineering and finance courses, attracting 10 per cent and seven per cent respectively. Education ranks fourth overall, although it is the second most popular subject among female professionals specifically.

According to GulfTalent’s study, the Middle East market for postgraduate education seems overall well-supplied, with 93 per cent of professionals reporting that they could find their desired courses. Some areas, however, do seem underserved. In particular, there is a shortage of postgraduate courses conducted in Arabic language, with 25 per cent of those seeking courses in Arabic reporting that they could not find their desired course.

Most professionals prefer to study part-time, in order to be able to continue to work and earn a living. Only 18 per cent of those planning to study would opt for a full-time course.

Among those planning to study full-time, the vast majority would like to study outside their home country. Not surprisingly, the choice of study destinations are dominated by four English-speaking countries – US, Canada, UK and Australia.

Top factors that make a country an attractive destination to study include reputation of the country’s universities, work opportunities available in that country and ease of getting permission to work during and after the programme.

The UAE was voted number five on the popularity list, the only Middle Eastern country making it to the top ten study destinations for professionals based in the region. Respondents noted the availability of international educational brands, lifestyle and career opportunities after graduation as key attractions of the UAE and particularly Dubai, while still being able to stay close to their families elsewhere in the Middle East.

According to GulfTalent’s study, the main challenges of postgraduate study for professionals are time and cost. Among those who reported not planning further study, 38 per cent cited lack of time as the main reason, while 19 per cent reported not being able to afford the cost.

For those choosing an educational institution, after the university’s reputation, pricing and time requirement of the course were cited as the most important factors in their selection process.

The most common source of funding for further education is personal savings, cited by 68 per cent of respondents, followed by scholarships at 15 per cent, employer funding at seven per cent, and borrowing at seven per cent. Only three per cent mentioned family as the main source.

The top providers of scholarship for postgraduate study available to professionals in the region include Middle East governments, governments of overseas study destinations, as well as some universities in Europe and North America.

Online courses have become extremely popular across the region, thanks to the lower cost and greater flexibility they offer. With a growing number of online courses now fully accredited by reputable international bodies, the main barrier to uptake has been removed.

The most popular format, favoured by over 65 per cent of professionals, are hybrid courses that combine online learning with some classroom attendance. Pure online courses are preferred by a further 18 per cent of respondents. Only 17 per cent would like a classroom-only format, as these tend to be more expensive and require the person to take a break from their career.

Employers’ views on the value of postgraduate education vary significantly. Some hiring managers interviewed mentioned that advanced studies do not always make a candidate more attractive, with relevant practical experience generally considered more important.

On the other hand, many employers demand relevant post-graduate qualifications for certain roles. Many also actively support their staff who wish to take up further study, for example by giving them flexibility to attend class on certain days, or even funding the cost of their study in return for a long-term commitment to the company. – TradeArabia News Service

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