Smart kids on the academic block

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2006, 12:00am

A DECADE AGO the world was bracing itself for the 'Pacific Century' - the much anticipated Asia-dominated epoch that was projected to replace the previous 'Atlantic Century'. The latter had been led largely by the economies and ideas from North America and western Europe, especially in the realm of business learning.

Then, three years short of the dawn of the new millennium, our region caught a bad cold - Asian flu - and the term Pacific Century fell out of use.

The Pacific Century is back now, at least on campus, with many of Asia's homegrown MBA programmes gaining a reputation on a par with those offered in the west.

'The best business schools in Hong Kong are equivalent to the top tier of American schools in terms of faculty quality,' said Chris Tsang Chi-on, associate director of MBA programmes at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

'The rise of China through its surging economic growth is generating tremendous interest academically as well as in the media and elsewhere.

'So, Hong Kong institutions such as ours are drawing a very high calibre of students who feel they can benefit from being closer to where all the action is.'

The mainland, too, is attracting MBA seekers from all over the world, and some of Asia's most notable MBA courses are found in China's Pacific Rim boomtowns.

The China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) is one of the star players in the mainland. Launched in 1995 in Shanghai, this EU-PRC joint venture dovetails western-style teaching with the culturally distinct business imperatives of the new generation of China's executives and business leaders.

CEIBS has grown to be a world-class business school, offering 18-month full-time business courses. It has also expanded to Beijing and Shenzhen. It has maintained first place in the Financial Times' ranking of top Asian business schools for three consecutive years, and its courses were ranked 21st this year in the British daily's top 100 global MBA programmes.

The programme is taught in English, but with an emphasis on the local business culture. Overseas students are required to learn Chinese and encouraged to take a language proficiency test for study and career development in China. Other language courses such as French and Spanish are also offered.

Bold upstarts like CEIBS aside, China has never had a shortage of venerable learning institutions. It boasts top universities with a long history and an excellent reputation, such as Peking University and Nanjing University.

The Guanghua School of Management of Peking University, recognised as one of China's best business schools, offers a two-year full-time or three-year part-time MBA programme designed for potential leaders in the mainland's surging private sector and state-owned enterprises.

'Our strategic goals are to nurture business leaders in China's emerging private sector, help transform the country's large state-owned enterprises and provide management training for leading multinational companies operating in China,' said Li Yining, dean of the school.

Since its inception in1994, Guanghua has taken in more than 4,000 students. In 2000, it launched its International MBA programme, which offers two years of study in Beijing and a year with overseas partners, such as the NUS (National University of Singapore) Business School and the ESSEC Business School in Paris.

Meanwhile, Nanjing University has teamed up with Cornell University (in the United States) to launch an EMBA programme, and partnered with the University of Missouri to set up an International MBA curriculum.

This is the year the world suddenly woke up to the fact that China was not the only giant in the region. India, with 1 billion-plus consumers, is now showing that 'sluggish' and 'uncertain' are words that apply no more to the country's macroeconomy. The Indian economy is cruising along at a speed inconceivable during the Atlantic Century.

India is churning out MBAs to fuel this growth from a number of institutions dotted around the subcontinent. Among these are the Aegis School of Business in Mumbai and the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi. The Aegis curriculum, described by India's Economic Times as one of the country's top five one-year MBA programmes, is more than 50 per cent taught by faculty from Europe and the United States.

Aegis dean Thor Hendrickson said he learned from his research with big companies, including Oracle and the Boston Consulting Group, that multinationals required MBAs with wide international exposure, practical experience in the business world and the ability to cross-perform. Aegis focused on all three aspects to produce well-rounded MBAs.

The Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), University of Delhi, was founded in 1954 and was the first business school in India to offer professional training for managers through part-time MBA courses. Its illustrious alumni network includes among its numbers Microsoft India managing director Neelam Dhawan, GE Money chief executive Vishal Pandit and Infosys chief sales officer Ritesh Idnanai.

FMS Delhi dean C.D. Bhattacharya is optimistic about the rising demand for Indian MBAs, domestically and internationally. 'In the next few years we are likely to witness a tremendous upsurge in the demand for MBA professionals in India,' Professor Bhattacharya said. 'Indian students are in great demand in other countries in different fields as well. And the number of collaborations between Indian and overseas business schools is likely to go up.'

FMS Delhi accepts 90 full-time and 140 part-time MBA students every year, and also offers opportunities for corporate interaction.

Long before talk of the Pacific Century began, the most iconic symbol of Asian business was the tiger. Japan was the tiger that Asia-watchers kept their sights on throughout the 1980s. In the mid-1980s four 'tiger cubs' emerged: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.

All the cubs are mature, robust beasts now - and are good sources of knowledge for devouring the competition. In Hong Kong there is the Business School of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, ranked 47th in the world among schools offering full-time programmes by the Financial Times this year.

The programme combines the best of western business-school teaching with insights into the practices and management philosophies behind Asia's most successful businesses.

Launched in 1991, the HKUST Business School has teamed up with the UCLA (University of California) Anderson School of Management to offer a 16-month or 12-month full-time course, with internships and exchange programmes. It also provides three-year part-time courses taught in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

In South Korea, the prestigious Seoul National University offers an excellent MBA programme that is finally defeating Korean perceptions that overseas-obtained MBAs are superior to the Asian equivalent.

In Asia-Pacific's southwest corner, the National University of Singapore offers an outstanding MBA education in a city that, like Hong Kong, has become a veritable MBA destination. The Financial Times ranked the NUS full-time MBA course 92nd in the world this year. More than 2,000 candidates from more than 20 countries apply for NUS's MBA programme every year.