Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Randa Bessiso

Randa Bessiso

Director, Middle East Centre

A world of change

The University of Manchester's Middle East Centre has celebrated its 15th anniversary.

The University of Manchester’s Middle East Centre recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Founding Director Randa Bessiso reflects on what has been achieved.

"The University of Manchester pioneered access to global business education in the Middle East with the introduction of the Global Part-time MBA for working professionals, bringing a top faculty-led MBA programme within easy, flexible and convenient reach for working professionals..."

The Middle East Centre has come a long way since opening in Dubai in 2006. Among other notable milestones, we have witnessed a global economic crisis, a global pandemic, and the world has been digitally transformed.

The key milestone for the Centre was in 2017 when it was renamed The University of Manchester Middle East Centre, having been part of AMBS for its first 10 years. The change reflected the growing significance and opportunities of the region for the University and reaffirmed the decision to ‘set up shop’ in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as it transformed into a world class regional and international hub for business and finance. From this point the centre has been at the epicentre of the University’s activity in the region.


We believe The University of Manchester pioneered access to global business education in the Middle East with the introduction of the Global Part-time MBA for working professionals, bringing a top faculty-led MBA programme within easy, flexible and convenient reach for working professionals looking to accelerate their careers, switch roles, or even become entrepreneurs, all supported by the dedicated team at the permanent regional centre.

From the early modest beginnings of our first Global MBA cohort (just 20 students) in 2006, we now have a growing portfolio of part-time Master’s programmes and have today supported almost 3,000 part-time students and graduated nearly 2,000.

We also support and nurture a growing alumni community across the region, where networking is at a premium and a serious business. Over the course of the last 15 years, the Centre has developed our own networks, from the very supportive authorities in the UAE to a wide range of industry connections and professional bodies across the region. Together, our aim is to support the community and provide a very rich and rewarding experience for students, and lifelong relationships with graduates.

The University of Manchester pioneered access to global business education in the Middle East.


Many of our earliest students are still closely connected to the University in the region and some have become Ambassadors, Adjunct Faculty and Teaching Assistants on the Global Part-time MBA, reflecting the quality of our students and the progress they have made since graduating. It’s very gratifying that today many of our new students join us following a referral or recommendation from an alum.

As one of the University’s global centres – and the largest and still the fastest growing – our faculty-led programmes bring our top academics to the region, as they lead the regular face to face student workshops or conferences we host in Dubai. Academics speak very highly of the quality and diversity of students we support at the Middle East Centre and are always very pleased to visit the Emirate.

They are not alone. Many students from other centres within the University’s network also choose to attend workshops in Dubai because of the opportunity to network with our regional students and to explore the attractions and opportunities of this dynamic, world-class city and region.


Choosing Dubai as the location for the Middle East Centre was a straightforward decision thanks to its business-friendly approach and the support of the local authorities. Since then, we have grown our regional community tremendously across the region, and actively engage with corporate partners, professional bodies and the UAE and Dubai authorities, through a range of partnerships and collaborations.

Our 15th anniversary celebration also coincided with the UAE’s 50th anniversary and our objective is to continue to play our part in supporting the region in achieving its ambitious visions and be a very big part in our students’ lives and careers.

Looking ahead, we continue to share the University’s aim which is to create impact and to make a difference across all three elements of the mission, comprising learning, research and social responsibility.

Dr. Zulfa Al Disi, PhD, MBA, MSc Postdoctoral Researcher, Qatar University

"I decided to study the Global Part-time MBA in 2006 to support my role in quality assurance management as I came from a science background and needed the additional broader knowledge. I completed my MBA in 2010 and attended the graduation ceremony on campus in Manchester, in 2011.

The MBA certainly contributed to my professional career as a QA Manager and then directly to my second Master's degree, leading on to the PhD and eventually my role as an academic researcher. When I started the MBA, I wanted to improve my management skills. However, since graduating my career goals have changed and I decided to revisit an earlier ambition in the academic scientific field.

The MBA workshops in Dubai were great learning experiences, and all my fellow students contributed a lot. Dissertation writing was difficult but I have to admit that the learning outcome was great and this has helped me a lot with my academic scientific career.

The MBA led to some very interesting and useful developments and I learned how to manage my time and then devoted time to handling balance sheets and learning how to persuade others. Earning an MBA degree from such a prestigious university made me proud and very self-confident. The MBA was something that I really needed at that stage of my career and it certainly made a difference."

Tim Shelton Global Product Owner, Arcadis International Limited, Dubai – United Arab Emirates

Tim Shelton is a prominent alumnus and Middle East regional ambassador of The University of Manchester who has used his Global MBA experience to support his career as he grows his role on the back of a wave of digital transformation sweeping across his company and industry.

He has recently moved from his regional position to a global leadership role while remaining in the Middle East. He initially trained as a quantity surveyor and the MBA helped him acquire a broader understanding of business, and additional skills. Arcadis saw his potential to assist in the digital transformation process.

As he says: "The MBA played a big part in my move to a new global role with Arcadis, building on my experience from a domain expertise and also from a strategic perspective – technology, people and processes. The MBA taught me a lot with a heavy focus on the ‘Manchester Method'.

"Digital transformation is a major opportunity for the company and the industry. From my own experience on the Global MBA, collaborating with like-minded motivated people who wanted to change their organisations as well as their careers gave me the confidence to speak out and articulate my ideas about contemporary business challenges. This wave of digital transformation hit my career at the right time, as I moved into middle management, so the MBA set me up for success."

Eng. Faisal Haddawi, MBA CEO – Abdullah Abdulaziz AlRajhi & Sons Holding Co Riyadh – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Faisal Haddawi was recently promoted to the role of CEO of one of the Gulf's largest family-owned holding groups. In the early 2000s, there weren't many techno-commercial people in Saudi Arabia and it was challenging to find opportunities to learn and develop. However, he found the University's new Middle East Centre in Dubai and the newly launched Global Part-time MBA, which pioneered blended learning in the region. He joined the programme in 2007 and graduated in 2010.

As he explains: "I started my career as a regular engineer. My three years with Manchester really changed the way I looked at business and boosted my career from the outset. Without the MBA I would not be in this position. The Global Part-time MBA is not an easy journey and the University's Middle East Centre team deserves credit for the fantastic support it provides, even arranging an MBA exam during a business trip in Budapest. There's a great team of staff and academics from who I learned many things.

"The ‘pay back' of an MBA is not really financial – it's more about changing your attitudes and behaviours, expanding your horizons, along with the knowledge and education. Most importantly, I learned how to change myself and I'm so proud to be part of this community."

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