DUBAI // Two universities will offer new master's degrees in property this year to meet industry demand for better qualified staff.
The Dubai branch campuses of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and Amity University in India are launching the courses after industry feedback showed a lack of expertise in the field and greater buoyancy in the property market.
Heriot-Watt will add a master's in property investment and finance to its degree in property management and development, which was launched in 2008.
Michael Waters, head of the property courses, said the job market was healthy for graduates but many of those taking courses were merely topping up their education.
"We have professional bodies here and the people in the markets need to see that level of professionalism and training," he said. "This year there has been a lot of interest in both courses, which reflects the rise in the market but also those in the industry realise they need to specialise more, covering the finer details from a technical point of view if they're going to continue working in the real estate markets."
He said the challenge was getting people to understand what a property education entails.
There are only a handful of courses available in the UAE and, internationally, the field "has really only developed in the last 20 years, so it's a fairly new discipline".
The course is recognised by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, a body recognised in about 90 countries, making the qualifications internationally transportable.
"If you're training for real estate in Dubai then you can go and find your graduate placements in Europe and are not tied to a qualification that's only recognised in Dubai or the Middle East," Mr Waters said. "There are certain principles that apply internationally so being tied to Rics is very positive to bring that consistency."
David Cockerton, a member of the educational board at Rics, said the lack of degrees in the area has been of great concern.
"For the last four of five years Rics has been trying really hard to get the universities and colleges to fill this gap both at undergraduate and master's degree level," he said. "The last five or so years of activity has shown people learning on the job rather than having the skills, qualifications and expertise to equip them to get the job done."
This is especially important, said Mr Cockerton, the manager of Abu Dhabi's real estate fund, because a major chunk of the UAE's income comes from real estate.
Much of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Authority policy is taken from Rics, which is how it has become much better known and appealing for those taking the course.
"I regularly get contacted by Rics firms here looking for graduates," Mr Waters said. "They are crying out for suitably qualified graduates and not just people with a general business degree. The market picking up has helped too. It's seen as a valued career choice. As Dubai develops, there will have to be more experts on the institutional and investment aspects of the industry."
Amity University research that showed great demand led to the launch of a specialised MBA in urban and real estate management.
Dr Narayanan Ramachandran, the head of academics at the university, said: "Now is a good time to launch this here because the real estate sector is coming back up whether it's residential, commercial, rental. It's given a good signal for the programme."
He said the industry was demanding specialists. "Real estate pricing, for example, has to be done in a very particular way and there are many such gaps in the market here still. The companies are telling us they need people with more of this detailed knowledge."
Mariam Shaikh, the head of admissions at Amity, said the university expected about 20 students in the first class.
"Rera now requires staff to be more professional so we are seeing that with the demand. With all the regulations in place, having better trained staff makes customers feel safer too."
Companies are so supportive of the new courses they are asking for evening and weekend course options for current employees, Mrs Shaikh said.
Overall, better educated professionals can only be good for the country, Mr Waters said.
"Having trained professionals gives confidence to the investors and markets to show regulation and professional ethics."