Asian Business Schools are on a Roll

Asian Business Schools are on a Roll

Asia’s economy has been on a growth spree over the past two decades. The IMF forecasts a further 5% surge in 2018 as the region continues to be the leader of global growth. Less well known is the growth of Asia’s elite business schools. They too are on a roll.

In the QS Global MBA Rankings 2018, 10 of the top 100 were based in Asian nations – two in China, three in India, three in Hong Kong, and two in Singapore.

“It is reasonable to infer a link between economies and management education, which helps explain the continuing popularity of American business schools and the rise of Asian schools,” says Alex Min, chief executive officer of the MBA Exchange admissions consultancy, who holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.

An increasingly robust economy in Asia reflects business growth, which drives hiring of MBA graduates, pushing up the value of the degree, says Min. Alumni of CEIBS, the Shanghai-based business school, see an average salary uplift of 92% pre- to post-graduation (one of the highest in the region) according to the QS TopMBA.com Return on Investment Report 2018.

And the Hays Asia Salary Guide 2017, which polled 3,000 organizations across more than 15 industries, states that 43% of employers increased hiring of permanent staff and almost as many (40%) expect an additional increase in headcount this year.

The appeal of an MBA in Asia is soaring. According to the GMAC Application Trends Survey for 2017, 77% of full-time two-year MBA programs in East and Southeast Asia reported enrolment growth. Leading the pack is China, where a staggering 92% of MBA programs reported an increase. Comparatively, there was a relatively modest 32% enrolment growth in US-based MBA programs.

Chioma Isiadinso, CEO of the Expartus consultancy, says, “Students interested in working in Asia or for multinational organizations that do business in the region are attracted to Asian business schools.

“There are also students who may know less about the region, but are curious and want a different experience, and see Asian schools as a way to fulfil their interest in living in a different environment.”

Asian MBA programs have evolved in multiple ways, Isiadinso says. Many have invested in getting top faculty and deans with international expertise to teach and lead their programs. “Asian programs have also broadened their marketing to appeal to international students from non-Asian countries through scholarships,” she adds.

Others have struck partnerships with non-Asian schools to provide a broader educational opportunity for their students who wish to have a diverse educational experience.

The Asia School of Business (ASB) is a start-up business school based in Kuala Lumpur born from a partnership between MIT and the Central Bank of Malaysia. It is two years old and has two cohorts of full-time MBA students.

“Our approach to education is different and innovative,” says Sean O. Ferguson, associate dean and director of the MBA program, who was previously at HKUST in Hong Kong.


“We put huge emphasis on action learning,” he says. “During the program our students do five action learning projects with various companies in the region. This ensures that they not only learn the theory of business management, but also have the ability to put it into practice. All this is done with an Asian business backdrop.”

Where are the other MBA hotspots in Asia? Singapore punches above its weight as a global education hub and is served by two excellent local business schools in NUS Business School and Nanyang Business School. The city state provides students with work permits during their studies and schools there offer merit-based financial awards.

“Singapore is also renowned for a pro-business culture that embraces and facilitates investment, finance and entrepreneurship,” Min says. But there are drawbacks: “Cost of living, including housing, is relatively high – #7 in the world. There are also strictly-enforced laws regarding behavior, and media censorship,” he adds.

There are more downsides to studying overseas at Asian business schools, not least the smaller alumni networks that can help graduates secure jobs. “When I was at HKUST, we had about 5,000 MBA alumni,” says Ferguson. “I believe Harvard has over 80,000 MBA alumni.”

“This is a challenge for young schools,” he continues. “When I worked at Rice (the business school of the Houston, Texas-based university was founded in 1974) it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that we had more Rice MBA alumni in Houston (our backyard) than Houston-based Harvard MBA alumni. I suspect this may be the case in many cities in Asia.”

Chioma adds, “For now, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Asian business schools that are barely 20 years into their existence to directly compete with long established US programs like Harvard, which has been around for over 100 years

“…We are still a long way before CEIBS or HKUST will be competing directly against programs like Wharton or INSEAD.”

But some believe it is not a question of if, but when Asian schools top the major MBA rankings.

“I think this is possible in the future. But will they be no 1, 2, or 3? Not likely. The established programs have such a head start and are also continuing to develop,” Chioma says.


“But continued success across multiple rankings will be a major achievement and will translate to exceptional marketing for them in the long run, given the high premium applicants place on rankings when selecting their target business schools.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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