Remarkable financial growth and opportunities in the region cited as reasons.
Universities are currently seeing a record number of applications for MBA (Master of Business Administration) programmes while Gulf companies are hungry for these graduates according to INSEAD business school findings.
Last year 12 per cent of INSEAD's 915 MBA graduates accepted jobs in the Middle East and Africa region with salaries increasing by 17 per cent compared to 2007. Of this figure, 62 per cent joined consulting firms, 26 per cent went into various industry sectors and 12 per cent joined the financial services industry.
Meanwhile the Middle East regional centre of Manchester Business School (MBS) has seen an unprecedented number of applications for its MBA programmes this year. It now has more than 600 students - the largest number among the school's seven international centres outside the UK.
"I think there are several reasons for it [the demand in MBAs]," said Sandra Schwarzer, director of INSEAD Career Services.
The Gulf region has over the past years seen remarkable growth and opportunities. New businesses were founded resulting in a consequent increase in the number of consulting and financial services firms, she said.
"MBAs generally have several years of work experience coupled with a first-class education. They are highly skilled and highly motivated - and at an age when they can be quickly developed into a general manager and global business leader," Schwarzer said.
According to 2008 employment statistics for INSEAD graduates, an MBA earns 77,500 euros (Dh415,438). Schwarzer said that with INSEAD graduates joining more than 350 firms in 56 countries, salaries varied from 18,400 euros (Dh98,856) to 163,900 euros (Dh880,573) last year.
Last year, the top UAE recruiters for the business school - which has a campus in Abu Dhabi - were Booz & Company, McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, AT Kearney, Nokia, Oliver Wyman, Delta Partners, Abraaj Capital, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Mubadala.
Schwarzer said many consulting firms - which represent the largest MBA recruiters in the region - will recruit MBAs with diverse backgrounds. "Moreover, they will select people for their leadership potential, their strong analytical skills and their motivation to become a consultant."
Industry firms generally hire for their sales, marketing, corporate strategy and finance roles while investment banks required prior knowledge in finance.
Women in business
Women MBAs are making headway too. Twenty-three per cent of new MBA students in the region are businesswomen; businesswomen make up 13 per cent of the total number of Middle East MBA students from MBS Worldwide (MBSW) said chief executive Nigel Banister.
Emirati entrepreneurs are also being encouraged. The school, together with the Khalifa Fund to Support and Develop Small and Medium Enterprises, has just launched an innovation award with a large cash prize available to the winner. MBSW in China has just completed its first innovation award programme, which attracted over 200 entries.
Banister said companies that sponsored its employees' MBA degrees are currently favouring tailored programmes. "They get a faster return on investment."
"We are seeing MBAs designed for certain companies. We may also tailor the projects more because it's more likely the company will support the student."
Banister said when companies, such as KPMG and Pricewaterhouse Cooper, send students in batches they are often treated as a separate cohort.