Inside the Middle East: Profiling Iraq, Oman, Lebanon

In every region, there are the primary markets – the ones that recruiters move to first and that often represent the core of the market – and there are the secondary markets. Secondary targets within a region are a little more off the beaten path. They may require more work but for many the rewards of finding a strong niche outside of the major regional hubs more than justifies the effort.

In the Middle East, the major markets for many recruiters include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the most efficient way into the region’s secondary markets may well be through one or more carefully chosen education agents.

While some student counsellors specialise in one market, there are others who operate in several countries within a region. Partnering with such regional specialists can enable you to reach deeper into secondary areas which you either may not have previously considered, or thought too difficult to tackle.

Attending industry events that are targeted to certain geographic areas is one way to start. The annual ICEF Dubai Workshop, for example, attracts educators from around the world and agents from across the Middle East, Turkey, Africa and South Asia.

This year’s event brought together 215 agents from 31 countries and amongst all of them we found Marie-Claude Saliba, General Manager of Educom Overseas, who shared her insights into important developments in three lesser known markets.

Educom Overseas began operations in 2001 and is currently representing over 150 education providers in more than 12 countries around the world. The agency is focused on active recruitment in Iraq, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

Of the three developing Middle East markets in this group, Saliba sees the biggest opportunities in Iraq and Oman due to the generous government scholarships on offer. But she cautions new market entrants, “Opportunities are there but you need to find the right company to work with because professionals [are hard to find] in this area.”

Iraq

Saliba sees most of their market growth coming from Iraq this year, especially the Kurdistan region. There are up to US$200 million in scholarships available for higher education studies abroad. For example, the Human Capacity Development Program in Higher Education (HCDP) alone provides US$100 million in scholarship support for students from Kurdistan.

Under these programmes, students may study at approved universities abroad but are then expected to return to Iraq immediately after. The most popular destinations for Iraqi students include the US, the UK, Turkey and Malaysia.

The number of Iraqi students studying in the US was up by 45% for the 2010-11 school year, according to statistics compiled by the Institute of International Education and State Department. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government announced recently that it will fund scholarships for 2,500 students to attend US universities in 2012 — quadrupling the enrolment of Iraqi students in American universities.

To date, more than 4,000 graduates from Kurdistan have been awarded scholarships to study for masters and PhDs in international universities. In parallel, US$200 million has been invested in infrastructure and campus building for new and existing universities.

In related developments, the US has contributed millions of dollars to educational and exchange programmes since 2003, and is preparing to launch a US$1 million English as a second language programme in Baghdad, Iraq. Foreign oil companies bidding to develop Iraq’s oil fields are also required to fund Iraqi education and training programmes.

Oman

The Ministry of Higher Education plays an important role in study abroad for Omani students. It administers scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students and has a great deal of influence over student choice by requiring that those going abroad study only at Ministry-approved foreign universities.

The most popular destinations for undergraduate degrees include the UK and Malaysia, and there is considerable demand among Omani students for English language training and leadership development programmes.

Junior summer camps, particularly in the UK, have also proven popular with Omani students and families.

Lebanon

Lebanon is a stable market at the moment but some recruiters have been hesitant to enter due to instability in the region.

Lebanese students are highly inclined towards top-ranked institutions in major destination countries, notably the US and the UK. This reflects in part the high regard in which Lebanese universities are held within the country. The most popular fields of study, particularly at the graduate level, include finance, business, engineering and law.

As in Oman, there is continuing strong demand for summer camps among Lebanese students, and for programmes in Spain and the UK in particular.



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