Haitam Giat, Yes Atlas Founder

The University Matchmaker

The head of Yes Atlas says his educational consultancy agency is helping more and more students from across the Middle East secure their higher education overseas.

By Rebecca Irvine

After Haitam Giat attended university in Australia, he spotted a gap in the market, and founded Yes Atlas, a company that helps students to navigate the complexities of international university applications.

With an ever-increasing number of students looking abroad for their higher education, the company has grown fast, and now has five offices across Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE. While originally based in an office in Australia, the main operational office is now located in Jordan and caters to students across the region.

Reflecting on the successful and still growing company, Giat says many students in the region look to study abroad with long-term aims to stay there.

How does the company work?

The company was started in 2009 to offer education services for Middle Eastern students. The idea came after I myself graduated from an Australian university. Students like to study abroad because of the good opportunities when they come back home and the advantage it gives them. We started in Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest market in the Middle East for international students. At the moment we have offices in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam; in Amman; and in Abu Dhabi. We offer a range of services to help with applications and follow up with universities, as well as visa applications, accommodation arrangements, and airport transfers—all the services. Students come to us and we help them with everything they need until they arrive at university.

How many employees do you currently have?

At the moment we have 52 employees across all our offices. The Jordanian office has 22 staff and is the main office in the region. The reason for this is the quality of the human resources in Jordan. All the applications are sent online to the Jordanian office, where the marketing team is also based. There are very good resources in Jordan in terms of the employees’ quality and the language level—because the students are applying to English-speaking universities. We started the office in Jordan three years ago, and it was a change in our business. It helped us to grow upfront in the Middle East because once you have a centralized office then all you need to expand is just a front office and sales people, and the Jordanian office could train the new staff. Most of the employees in the company are actually Jordanian, even in the offices elsewhere in the region; I believe 85 percent of our employees are Jordanian.

How many students do you cater for each year?

This year we have exceeded 1,000 students, which is a big number for us compared to previous years. This is almost 25 percent more than last year. Around 10 to 15 percent of students we work with are from Jordan.

Why do students from Jordan want to study abroad?

There are two types of Jordanian students: the first want to have international experience and then come back to the Middle East and find a good job, or they have a business to market. And the others, which are the majority, go to study abroad and would like to find options for immigration after their studies—to stay there for good or come back after a few years. For example, there are many Jordanian students who want to study in Germany, because the education is affordable, and they have the option to stay there for five years after studying and work. Jordanian students are looking for affordable options because of limited budgets, whereas students from the GCC have government sponsorship. It used to be that Jordanian students want to study in the United States and the UK, but we’re seeing a transition in the market. Students have also realized they have more options than just the UK. International universities love the Jordanian students though because they take their studying seriously; they are smart and have good GPAs, compared to other neighboring countries.

How do you see the company developing in the future?

I believe that by the end of 2016 we will have an office in almost each Arab country in the Middle East. The next office we are opening is in Kuwait and after that we will be in Oman, and then Qatar. We try to expand every six months.

How do you see the higher education opportunities for students in the region developing?

There are two things that influence the market. We have a big percentage of youth in the Middle East. There is a lot potential for international studies because our local universities cannot handle the number of students. That’s one thing, and the second thing is that governments with funds and money want their citizens to be skilled. Countries like the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait—they have the funds but they are behind in terms of technology and technological advancement. They want their students to study abroad and bring that international experience back home, so I think we will see the market expand in the long-term.