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Workers head back to school

Business and language courses report a boost as people seek new careers or advancement in their fields as employment insecurity mounts.

Increasing numbers of people are returning to schools and universities in the UAE to improve their employment prospects in the face of job losses and growing demands from employers, school directors say. One beneficiary is the Berlitz language school in Abu Dhabi, which, according to its director, Manal Mahshi, has seen a big increase in demand for Arabic lessons.

"There is also a continuous increase in companies sending their staff for English-language training as part of the professional development requirements," she said. Manipal University at Dubai International Academic City has seen a significant increase this month over the same time last year in the number of MBA applicants, according to the MBA director, Balasubramani Ramjee. Some were seeking a career change, he said, and others an opportunity to move up the career ladder.

"I've been through about three recessions, and education doesn't really suffer," Mr Ramjee said. "People have to prepare during these times. Financially, it's difficult to fund studies, but it's a commitment to your own future." All of the February newcomers were studying part-time while working in full-time jobs, he said. At the Dubai campus of Heriot-Watt University, based in Scotland, there has been a 40 per cent increase in MBA enrolment, said the programme's director, Shirin Jarrar. The students, who study on weekends, come from Abu Dhabi and from as far away as Kuwait and Bahrain.

Employees were trying to broaden their options in terms of opening up new career paths, Ms Jarrar said, as well as making themselves more valuable to their employers as redundancies loomed. Many of the students were already top-level managers in finance, engineering and other professional fields, Ms Jarrar said, but are increasingly insecure in their jobs in the UAE, once considered a haven for such people.

"Employers are scaling back," she said, "and the employees need to both enhance their chance of progressing up the career ladder as well as preparing themselves if they have to move on." A significant number, she said, were looking for a complete career change, abandoning the mindset that a career had to be for life. One student, working as a personal assistant in Abu Dhabi, has just started her MBA in operations management at Manipal University, commuting to Dubai twice a week to study. Almost all of her 50 fellow students in the two-year, part-time course also have full-time jobs; at Dh50,000 (US$13,600) the course costs as much as some new cars and would be impossible for many to afford without a job.

A financial analyst in Abu Dhabi said she recently began a master's course in marketing in Dubai. "The financial sector is in big trouble now," he said, "and it would be silly to not think about the possibility of losing my job. We all could. "I'm using this time as something positive to just re-evaluate my career. With marketing, I can apply that to many business sectors and will not be as limited as I am now. I can use it to remain in the financial sector where my experience lies, or go into something totally new."

mswan@thenational.ae

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