China regularly dominates discussions when the topic of the Asian economic tigers arises. It is not surprising that a great deal of faith has been put into China as a source of economic growth and of career development: it has a centrally-run economy that acts in an often predictable and steady manner. It also has a relatively modern infrastructure, and its population is vast, meaning regional slowdowns in growth can be balanced out by faster growth in other regions.
There is a great deal more to Asia than China, and Australia should not be disregarded – the region contains a wealth of cultures, nationalities, languages, and crucially, business opportunities. These opportunities span from the most developed of Asian nations in the form of Japan, across China, and through some of the world’s most efficient city-states, Hong Kong and Singapore. There are further opportunities in the world’s largest democracy and one of the fastest growing world powers, India, and more opportunities further southward to a Western nation, the raw materials provider to many of the above, Australia.
The region has an unmatched combination of economic growth, educational and business opportunities. But where to study an MBA in the Asia-Pacific region is a crucial question, as with such great diversity between nations, the focus of an applicant’s career may well determine the country they study in.
Another important factor is the quality of life, education and experience that an MBA student can expect in each of the various countries that make up the Asia-Pacific region.
Most often positioned alongside China when discussing Asia at least, is India. The country is growing at almost the same speed as China but attracts MBA students that are interested in a certain number of highly specialized industries, most famously the IT and financial sectors. However, the pharmaceutical and raw material industries are also now rapidly gaining attention. The QS Global 200 Business Schools Report 2012 shows that of the 50 business schools rated on their expertise in teaching MBA-level corporate social responsibility, eight are Asia-Pacific institutions. Half of these are in India, suggesting that the country is taking this industry seriously as a potential growth area. The country also features highly in the global rating of MBAs specializing in entrepreneurship, reinforcing a perception that India is positioning itself as a country that is developing off the back of its brainpower rather than its brawn.
“The two Indian Institutes of Management in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, as well as the Indian School of Business and S P Jain Institute of Management and Research improved their reputation for delivering entrepreneurship skills among MBA employers considerably,” says Nunzio Quacquarelli, managing director of QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd and author of the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report.
He adds: “This tallies with research by Ernst and Young, Entrepreneurs speak out: a call for action to G20 governments, which found India to possess the greatest entrepreneurial culture among the G20 nations.”
Even in the more traditional areas of MBA study, India remains a powerhouse for education and for career opportunities. “Indian employers reported more MBA job opportunities in 2011 than the United States, with one financial services company reporting over 7,000 MBA job opportunities [in 2011] and even more in 2012,” according to the TopMBA.com Jobs and Salary Trends Report 2011/12.
Salaries for MBA holders working in India still do not match those offered by companies in the West, but are competitive and still very much exceed salaries offered to local managers or those without an MBA. As with many developing countries, rapid national growth often leads to greater exposure to opportunities and responsibility than can be expected in the West. This means what is sacrificed in income can be made up for by acquiring a wealth of experience and skills that would take far longer to obtain in more developed economies.
If MBA students are looking for Western salary levels in the Asia-Pacific region, then Australia may be the most appropriate destination. Australia is home to 11 of the 36 Asia-Pacific business schools that feature in the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report. MBA graduates of Australian business schools reported an average salary of US$117,800 in 2011, making Australian MBA incomes the second highest in the world.
Additionally, the strength of the Australian dollar means that incomes, when compared to many home countries of foreign-born MBA holders, are particularly strong. Furthermore, strong ties between Australian and Asian economies mean that MBA graduates can enjoy a Western level of development at home, while also benefitting from exposure to the rising economies of Asia.
Other MBA holders that are happy to eschew Western comforts in order to work in the heart of Asia’s growth engine, may find themselves in China.
“Rapid economic growth and a shift from basic manufacturing to industries based on innovation, value-added product design, and service provision, have opened up new opportunities for MBA placement,” says professor Lydia Price, associate dean and academic director of China Europe International Business School’s (CEIBS) MBA program.
“In recent years, we have seen a strong increase in consulting and financial firms recruiting on campus, bringing us into alignment with recruiting at other top business schools globally,” she adds.
China’s banks are recruiting heavily from the international MBA pool, because there are growing concerns over the structure of the country’s nationally-owned financial sector. Hi-tech is another large growth area in terms of demand for MBA holders. Infact, demand for MBAs in China has become so high in recent years that the city of Shanghai has helped launch a new business school, Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance, to increase the number of China-familiar MBA holders.
Comparatively low salaries (US$59,700 for international talent) and language barriers can provide frustration in China. Unlike India, China does not use English as a lingua-franca and very little English is spoken in offices. Anecdotally, there is a perception among international MBA holders in China that when working in Chinese companies, the opportunities for promotion are limited. MBA holders interested in remaining in the country long term might prefer to work for an international company operating in China.
Alternatively, Singapore may prove attractive to MBA students willing to immerse themselves in east Asia. As a city-state, it is one of the wealthiest societies in the world, and boasts some excellent business schools and international corporations dealing with finance and logistics. Recently, Singapore has been rated highly for its business schools’ ability to provide MBA students with the expertise required to work in financial sectors. The National University of Singapore Business School ranked second in the Asia-Pacific region and 14th in the world, according to the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report’s assessment of the financial specialization abilities of business schools worldwide.
According to the TopMBA.com Jobs and Salary Trends Report, the average MBA salary for those in Singapore is US$82,700. This places the city-state fourth, behind Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong, where MBAs earn on average US$117,800, US$92,000 and US$87,500, respectively.
Business schools in Asia-Pacific are rising rapidly into, and upwards through the ratings provided in recent years by QS and other organizations such as the Financial Times and Businessweek. With economic growth, career opportunities and investment in the region likely to continue expanding in the future, it is also possible that the attraction for potential MBA students will maintain a similar momentum. Differences in MBA specialization, salary expectations and living environment will continue to differentiate countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But as a whole, it is unlikely that the vibrancy of the region will dissipate in the foreseeable future.