Slogging through an executive MBA is hard enough. But for the Dubai resident Ulrika Hedlund there have been the added challenges of starting hers while still working full-time, having a baby and spending one to two weeks each month in London, where some of her courses are taught.
But there is a good reason for this juggling act. After two years in the same role at Microsoft she felt she had stagnated a little bit in her personal development. "It was either apply for a new role or look into some way for me to grow," she says.
Like Ms Hedlund, more business professionals in the region are stepping out of their offices and taking a seat in a classroom, and business schools are taking up the challenge.
For example, Manchester Business School in Dubai plans to launch a new portfolio of executive education programmes for C-level executives this year, while Insead started its Global Executive MBA programme at its Abu Dhabi campus in October. London Business School in Dubai, where Ms Hedlund is completing her programme, launched its inaugural Executive MBA programme in 2007.
Unlike traditional business school degrees such as MBAs, executive education programmes tend to feature a more mature crowd. Students are typically in their 30s or 40s and carry years of work experience. "I have chief executives of billion-dollar companies, vice presidents, directors, the whole range," says Henry Moon, an associate professor of management at London Business School's Executive MBA programme in London and Dubai.
Because of that experience, the case studies are often "very applicable to my work", says Ponz Pandikuthira, a general manager for Kia Motors Europe and an executive MBA student at Insead. "What's really impressed me is that I can apply the teaching as soon as I get back to my job."
Of course, not all executive education programmes are created equally. While most of the managers and executives who were recently surveyed about the quality of executive education in the GCC said the offerings were at least satisfactory, nearly 20 per cent considered the programmes to be "poor".
A common reason for this perception: many programmes are not tailored to a company's needs, according to a new study conducted by the Manchester Business School, Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City.
"There needs to be more detail on local markets in education," says Najam Towheed, the owner and chief operating officer for Emirates Exhibit Group, a support services company for major exhibitions. He has been looking at providing his staff with executive education programmes, but says: "I'd like to see a programme with more focused case studies on this region. I would send staff [to] that."
Other employers have cut corporate budgets for executive education because of the economic downturn. At the London Business School in Dubai, the number of corporately sponsored students in the executive MBA programme dropped by 50 per cent last October compared with 2009.
Still, some students have shown their entrepreneurial side when approaching an employer about these kinds of programmes. When Mr Pandikuthira was recruited, he says: "It was part of my negotiation process that we agreed to an exec MBA at Insead. If they said no, I would not have moved."
Even those who end up paying for the bulk of their education say the cost can be worth it. Ms Hedlund, who received US$10,000 (Dh36,730) in corporate tuition assistance for a programme that starts at $89,950, managed to manoeuvre into a new role at Microsoft after just three months into the degree.
"I knew a lot of time would go into the MBA, and I thought it would be good to stay in my current role," she says, "but I knew I needed something new to keep me motivated at work."