Schools of thought differ on studies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2008, 12:00am

With more foreign providers of MBA programmes entering the market, the choice for students grows and competition among business schools for their dollars intensifies.

All MBA programmes have the common goal of teaching general management, strategic thinking and developing the business intelligence of students, but are there significant differences between MBA programmes offered by a local provider and those offered by a foreign provider? Esther Li, associate EMBA programme co-ordinator at Lingnan University, said local universities had a home advantage for better learning. They have closer communication with students for personal development, the content of courses is more localised and directly relevant to local society, library resources are plentiful, and they offer stronger administrative support for professional networking.

Lingnan's EMBA is a part-time programme targeting managers with at least five years of managerial experience. The programme adopts a small-class teaching approach which, according to Dr Li, guarantees maximum interaction and exchange with professors and among students.

'With a relatively small number of MBA students in a typical class, students are entitled to enjoy full service at our university library, world-class online learning resources, administrative support and other student support facilities.'

The Australia-based Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM) is one of the largest foreign providers of postgraduate business education in Hong Kong with a presence in the city since 1994. According to Richard Petty, associate dean (international), the business school has seen a steady and significant increase in the number of students enrolling in its MBA programme since 2003.

'Interestingly, while some students have a prior association with Australia, many do not,' Professor Petty said. 'A large proportion of students join MGSM's programmes because of its international reputation, multicampus network within Asia, and as a result of referral from a trusted source who has studied with MGSM in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Australia at some point in the past.'

He said while it was impossible to generalise, foreign providers did offer a different experience. The MGSM MBA offered an international experience and networking opportunities with faculty, business leaders and fellow students from many countries, he said. Students on the MGSM MBA could opt to study the same programme in Singapore and Sydney, and 'this pan-regional network of campuses also increases study options and builds flexibility into the programme for the students', Professor Petty said.

Helen Lange, director of the MBA programme and associate professor at U21Global, said the most obvious difference was the global experience that a foreign provider could offer over a local provider. 'By definition, a local provider will focus its programme on the local experience,' Dr Lange said. 'However, foreign universities give a more global outlook to their MBA programmes.'

Steven DeKrey, senior associate dean and MBA programme director at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School, disagreed. He said many local providers in the region provided MBA programmes with a high degree of internationalisation. In the latest Financial Times (FT) MBA rankings, HKUST was ranked No2 for its international faculty, and No5 for its international experience.

'At the same time, our faculty is doing research [ranked No20 in the world by the FT] about what's going on in the region, so there you have a powerful combination of international perspectives and local relevance,' Professor DeKrey said.

He said students doing the full-time MBA programme at HKUST were encouraged to mix with the local business communities, alumni and recruiters. 'Joining events held by chambers of commerce, company talks and alumni activities are almost weekly activities,' he said. 'Such exposure is crucial to those who plan to have their future based in Hong Kong and China.'

Increasingly, local business schools are putting the focus on international education and partnering with overseas institutions to add a more international curriculum to their programmes, so are differences between the two providers becoming smaller?

Not necessarily, according to Dr Lange. 'It always depends on the design of the educational programme, and global or international standards would need to be built into the partnership arrangements if it is to ensure that the programmes are of international standard.'

She said simply partnering would not necessarily produce the required outcome. 'It is the design and quality of the programme itself, including the content, the faculty and the students which will determine whether there are any differences.'

Professor Petty said while to a certain extent the differences might become smaller, today's managers needed to be culturally sensitive to the way business was conducted in other countries, and that undertaking a programme with a single international institution provided students with the unique perspective of that business school and its country of origin.

'Collaboration between universities on a single programme can work well, but sometimes are beset by the problems that confront any organisation that has an increase in the number of partner relationships that need to be managed, and an increase in the number of 'moving parts' that need to be managed in the programme.'

Obtaining a second degree from an international university was appealing to many students, Dr Lange said. 'The new economy requires people to think differently and so by studying in a non-local university, it is more likely that 'norms' will be challenged and comfort zones reduced, so that learning differently and different things will help develop more creative solutions that are more suitable to the knowledge economy.'

She said U21Global was seeing an increase in interest from prospective students in Hong Kong. 'We believe that this will continue because as people become more aware and receptive to online programmes, enrolments in U21Global will increase. Students tend to put their trust only in proven and reputable programmes, and U21Global offers arguably one of the more established online MBA programmes in the marketplace today.'

She said there was good competition in the MBA market, which was good for potential students.

Professor DeKrey said for a candidate, the prime consideration should be where he or she would like to base their career. 'It makes most sense for a student to attend a reputable programme in the region that they are going to work in, ... one that is recognised for its international standards, faculty strength and student diversity.'