Mohanad A. Dahlan, CEO UBT

UBT is a private Saudi university on a mission to prepare its students with the transferable skills they require to excel in industry and as entrepreneurs. It consistently leverages applied research and works to foster an environment that helps students, faculty staff and alumni pursue life-long learning. By responding rapidly and effectively to changing market conditions, it has grown from a single junior college to an internationally respected, multi-disciplinary university in under 20 years. It has also set up a number of customised courses in conjunction with several leading organisations, including HP, the HALJ Group and the Institute of Risk Management. The UBTAcademy counts Pearson, Oxford University Press and International House among its partners.


2000: UBT begins life as a conventional junior college offering general business diplomas
2003: Becomes a fully-fledged four-year college (CBA) offering six programs specializing in the disciplines required for young Saudis to compete successfully in today’s global economy.
2008: Launches College of Engineering and Information Technology
2011: Launches College of Advertising
2012: Awarded university status by the Higher Council of the Saudi Higher Education.
2015: Launches Research and Consultation Centre
2017: Launches UBT Academy and College of Law 

BIG talked to its CEO Mohanad A. Dahlan

BIG: UBT has succeeded in establishing itself as a core participant in the Saudi education sector in a relatively short space of time. How has it managed to do this?

MD: I think the holistic strategy we adopted from the very beginning has been a key factor in our success. Our founders understood that education should not stand alone but was just one dimension of a larger picture that also includes research and the community. By earning a reputation for our ability to attract top-quality and highly qualified faculty members and systematically nurturing relations between our alumni and industry, we have also been able to attract the brightest and best students. It is something of a virtuous circle, in that this in turn has meant even more top-drawer academics and teaching staff want to come and work here as time goes by.

BIG: When HRH King Salman Bin Abdulasis al Saud launched Vision 2030, he identified making the output of the Kingdom’s education system more aligned to the needs of the private sector as a priority. How has UBT contributed to that goal?

MD: Tying the higher education sector more closely to the requirements of the private sector has involved making major changes to the curriculum and moving it towards more practical and commercially-oriented activities. We pioneered the idea of creating specialist business courses as a means of training up entrepreneurs, skilled professionals and business leaders for the public as well as the private sector. UBT was founded on the idea that theory must be applicable to the practical ‘real life’ employment market.

BIG: At the latest calculation, more than 80% of UBT’s graduates were gainfully employed, which is a tremendous achievement. How do you manage to keep all your courses so relevant?

MD: We have designed a benchmarking system that we call Quswa. The word is Arabic for ‘maximisation’ and the system enables us to maximize the output from the five principal elements of education as we see them – the books, the classroom, the students, the teachers and the curriculum. Every semester we track the evaluations of the students against the faculty and the faculty against senior faculty. We also track the curriculum against local needs.
For instance, Crown Prince Mohammad bi Salma has said that he wants to focus on local content, and we have taken that to mean local military and plastics manufacturing,

BIG: The UBT Academy language institute seems to have been a runaway success since its launch. Can you explain why?

MD: UBTA’s core business is not to produce the content but rather to adopt global best practices and leverage them. It incorporates the best of the best within a single curriculum and employs the most qualified and competent staff to create a modern, up-to-date learning experience. This has allowed us to develop a sustainable franchise model that we are in process of rolling out to our neighbours on the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The beauty of the model is that it allows us  to enter into partnerships with top publishers around the globe.

BIG: So what does the future hold for the Saudi private-sector eduction in general and UBT in particular?

MD: For the time being, private-sector education providers like ourselves are effectively real-estate developers. Our campus, for example, is located on government-owned land and the lease will eventually come up for renewal, so the future is far from certain. For that reason we have been purchasing land for ourselves including for an all-female close to the Red Sea coast. But whatever happens next, we will be there. UBT may be relatively new, but my family has been in education for generations. We believed in  sustainability long before it became a buzzword and we have made sure that our new business model is sustainable as well.

Mohanad A. Dahlan is an experienced and performance-driven executive with a successful track record in a multinational environment. Before taking over at UBT he had worked in five countries and his experience includes training, certification, and degrees in various business-related fields. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School.