DUBAI // The popularity of business courses provides many of Dubai's universities with a problem: nowhere in the UAE offers PhD programmes to develop lecturers.
The University of Dubai hopes to change that and has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Higher Education to offer business PhDs.
About 10,000 students - most of them Emirati - have graduated from the university since it was set up in 1997 by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. It now offers dozens of MBA and undergraduate degrees.
But as the institution has expanded it has felt an increasing need for home-grown academics, especially, says the university's president, in the areas of finance and accounting.
Universities have boomed since 1997, and in no area more than business. Business and IT students make up almost two-thirds of graduates.
This is to be expected, according to the president of the University of Dubai, Dr Omar Hefni.
"Every government or business organisation has certain activities that need to be performed, from human resources to accounting," he said.
"These organisations represent the cornerstone of any economy which is why demand for business programmes remains high."
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research accredits 17 institutions that offer business courses - 11 of them in Dubai - and a further seven information systems degrees. Three universities in the country offer Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) courses. The DBA is a professional qualification.
By contrast, the PhD will be more research-based, to train academics and teachers.
"The MBA we launched last year is doing very well," Dr Hefni said, "but to launch the PhD, we'd need more specialised faculty."
The university believes there is demand for a PhD from professionals and those already teaching at MBA level in universities.
It has already had more than 200 expressions of interest in the course's 10 places.
Because of a shortage of staff with higher qualifications, the university's US accrediting body has allowed many people teaching MBAs to do so with only an MBA and relevant professional certification, as long as they are working towards a PhD.
Doctoral courses are thin on the ground in other subjects, too. Just five of Dubai's 53 institutions offer doctoral studies. One in 250 students is studying for a PhD.
As far back as 2009, the University of Wollongong Dubai was looking into whether there was enough demand to support a doctoral business course. It found that nine in 10 of those holding a master's degree were interested. Some 72 per cent said it would boost their careers, and 64 per cent preferred a PhD over a DBA.
UAE University, a federal institution, was the first in the country to offer a DBA. However, it has not faced such a struggle to attract PhD-qualified staff - thanks, according to its provost, Prof Rory Hume, to higher salaries and the school's reputation in the region.
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of Abu Dhabi University (ADU), which also offers a DBA, agreed that money mattered.
"It is important to offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract highly qualified and well suited faculty members for the DBA programme," he said.
"ADU has been fortunate in the last two years to have been able to attract and retain outstanding faculty for graduate education in business."
It, too, is seeking US accreditation - but expects a wait. "This is a process that normally requires several years to achieve," said Dr Ibrahim.