In late October, Orient Planet PR and Marketing Communications announced its partnership with The Irish Academy of Public Relations to create “the first ever online PR and Communications Academy in the Middle East” offering localized courses to students in the Middle East, Levant and North Africa regions. A month after the launch, Communicate caught up with managing director of the academy, Nidal Abou Zaki to see what drove this decision and what the initial response has been.
Why the decision to venture into the education sector?
The Middle Eastern PR sector is rapidly flourishing amidst the huge demand for PR and other communications professionals in the region. We realize, however, that the industry lacks enough communications practitioners who possess the level and extent of world-class skills and knowledge required to meet not only the unique needs of the global industry but specifically that of the Arab World. We hope to bridge this skills gap through Orient Planet Academy.
Several universities and colleges are already offering courses along this line, but Orient Planet Academy is the first online PR and Communications Academy in the Middle East. This sets us apart from our competitors.
The launch of the Academy comes at a time when the regional e-learning market is growing. In 2013, the regional e-learning market reached $44 million as a result of concerted efforts to digitize education. By 2016, e-learning market revenues in the Middle East are projected to hit the $561 million mark, at an average growth rate of 8.2 percent per year. One of the major drivers of the growing online education market in the Arab World is the increasing number of Internet users in the region. According to an industry report, Internet usage in the Middle East grew by a remarkable 3060.9 percent during the 2000-2014 period.
For more than 16 years, Orient Planet PR has been working with Dubai Smart Government, a pioneering initiative in the region to provide government online services for corporate and public audiences. We have also been collaborating with Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, the first e-University in the United Arab Emirates. These partnerships have given us unparalleled insights and in-depth understanding of local and regional online education.
What is Orient PR looking to achieve out of this partnership?
The newly launched Academy fits well with our mission to cater to the demands of the Arab World’s thriving communications sector. It further positions the company as one of the industry’s top leaders.
This will help raise the standards of the regional PR and communications industries, which are increasingly looking for highly skilled professionals.
Can you tell us how the initial response has been?
The feedback has been highly positive and encouraging. Orient Planet Academy accepted its first student only three days after the launch. That clearly demonstrates high interest from our target market and the strong appeal of this kind of opportunity to many professionals in the region.
Why the decision to partner with The Irish Academy of Public Relations? Why not any regional or local institutes?
The Irish Academy of Public Relations is an international online education provider of courses in the communications disciplines. Highly known in the global industry, it boasts of more than 20 years of expertise in education and training in the field. This will make our certificate holders internationally competitive, with their competencies being recognized worldwide. This is very important for us. Our students in the region will possess the same level of qualifications and degree of knowledge as their counterparts in the rest of the world.
No other regional or local institutions provide online courses in PR, marketing, journalism, event management and English grammar in our region. With our strategic partnership with the Irish Academy, Orient Planet Academy will play a major role in the industry’s further growth and progress and in this part of the world.
What is the fee structure for the courses?
We have made sure that our courses are internationally recognized and highly affordable. The fees range from $495 to $695. They can be completed in a span of 10 to 20 weeks.
With so many options such as Coursera and iTunes U that offer free courses from world-renowned universities, what gives your courses an edge?
Orient Planet Academy’s internationally recognized certificate courses have been localized to ensure that they meet the specific needs and requirements of the Arab World. They are very suitable for the region. Moreover, our tutors are established communications professionals in the Middle East. These factors place us ahead of the rest.
Some online academies do not issue certificates and have no quality control. We make sure that before the certificates are issued, our students are first required to pass all assignments and examinations to ensure that they are qualified and ready.
We will also deliver our online courses in Arabic soon. No other online academy in the region provides PR and marketing courses in Arabic. By doing so, we will able to cater to the demands of the Middle East.
How are you promoting the academy in terms of advertising and marketing?
We mainly focus on promoting the Academy online given that it is a digital teaching platform. We have been actively promoting it on social media. The Academy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been generating immense interest as shown by the increasing number of likes and followers.
What is the future plan for the academy? Any plans of regional tie-ups or introducing more courses or providing internships or professional guidance on completing the course?
Since it is an online Academy, it is easily available to individuals who are interested in taking our courses. Our Academy is open 24/7 to each student in the region. It is available in every single home and office. Additionally, our courses can be completed in a time span of 10 to 20 weeks so we think regional tie-ups are not required as of now. As for new courses, we plan to offer online courses on radio and television. We will launch these new courses within a few more weeks. We will be gradually offering our online courses in Arabic over the next few weeks.
What do you think is the scope of online education in the region and why?
The scope of online education in the Arab World is huge. Globally, an estimated $35.6 billion was spent on self-paced e-learning in 2011. The industry is now valued at $56.2 billion – a figure that is expected to double by 2015.
In late October, The Irish Academy of Public Relations announced its joint venture with Orient Planet PR and Marketing Communications to create “the first ever online PR and Communications Academy in the Middle East” in a press statement. The academy will exclusively provide the Irish Academy’s courses to students in the Middle East, Levant and North Africa regions.