Asia now competes with America for top business students

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 November, 2010, 12:00am

Asian MBA programmes have emerged as challengers to their more established United States peers in global academic rankings, but their pulling power may still be limited to students willing to put down roots in this region.

Top students have traditionally completed their Master of Business Administration degrees in the US or Europe, where opportunities for high-level jobs are most abundant.

But global growth has since shifted to Asia and business schools in the region have capitalised on the trend, drawing candidates from both home and abroad.

The rising profile of Asian MBA programmes is expected to come at the expense of overseas universities by taking a bite out of their application intakes.

But so far the face-off between East and West has been kept in check by a lack of overlap between the two markets, said Richard Lyons, dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

'There is still such a strong segmentation that we don't see ourselves going head-to-head against those schools very often,' Lyons said.

'People either decide they want to do [the MBA] here or they want to do it over there.'

He said only a 'tiny' number of Haas's roughly 240 full-time MBA students in last year's class had also been admitted to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School.

The head-to-head numbers between Haas and Hong Kong-based business schools have generally been five or less, Lyons added.

That comes as no surprise to Hong Kong's leading business schools, which have positioned themselves as distinct alternatives to the traditional western MBA programmes.

'There is no single school that we are battling it out with because we are unique,' said Steven DeKrey, a senior associate dean at HKUST.

'If people want a top school and want Asia, is there a better choice?'

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has also made efforts to differentiate its MBA programme from other overseas ones.

The curriculum covers themes unique to this region, including family business ownership, supply chain management in the Pearl River Delta and corporate governance in the mainland.

'Asian business schools should start to have confidence in ourselves and not copy from the US,' said T.J. Wong, dean at the faculty of business administration of CUHK.

Attending an Asian business school has become a more viable option in the past few years after several MBA programmes around the region have charted a rise up global academic rankings.

HKUST was ranked ninth in the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings 2010, tied with University of Chicago Booth School of Business. And CUHK was tied with Haas at 28th overall.

In total, six schools from the region cracked the top 30, including France's Insead, which has a full-time campus in Singapore. That is up from just two in the 2007 rankings.

Academic rankings are usually taken with a grain of salt because of all the variables involved in calculating them.

But they can still serve as a useful starting point for prospective students when they are deciding where to apply, DeKrey said.

'[And then] the more sophisticated reader will analyse the criteria and match it against what they care about,' he said.

Many students seem to be zeroing in on the better job placement data from Asian business schools.

The FT survey showed that nine out of 10 students from both HKUST and CUHK had secured work within three months after graduation, for example, compared with just three in four students from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which offers the GMAT exam required by most MBA programmes, reflected this trend, reporting the percentage of test scores sent to US-based business schools decreased from 83.9 per cent of the world total to 78.4 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

The combined percentage of scores sent to India, Singapore, and Hong Kong more than doubled to 5.3 per cent in that time.

That signals competition for students could increase over time between East and West, even though top-tier US business schools have been relatively insulated so far.

'There will be some shake-up among US business schools,' Lyons said.

'[In] that middle-tier of US business schools there is going to be a lot of competition and increasingly the top 10 schools are [even] feeling it.'