How Asian business schools are beating Western rivals

Business education in Asia is little more than 30 years old. The first business school in China, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, was founded in 1994. The business school at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is a bit older, dating back to 1991.

Before our eyes these schools, along with many other educational institutions from Asian countries, have made a quantum leap and broken into the ranks of elite schools across the world specialising in educating entrepreneurs and business managers.

In 1999, the first Financial Times global ranking included no Asian schools. Fast forward to 2018 and there are already 16 Asian schools in their rankings, from Singapore, South Korea, India, Vietnam and, of course, China.

Obviously, the current macroeconomic climate is one of the main reasons for the rise of Asian business education. The centre of the global economy has shifted and Asia will undoubtedly drive growth in the coming decades.

The booming economy has a serious shortage of professional business managers who need to be educated somewhere. That is why many business schools, in China, for example, receive government aid – the aforementioned CEIBS was created with state funds.

Government subsidies provide a key advantage for attracting students as the cost of an education at some of the top-ranked Asian business schools is cheaper than at Western schools. For example, according to the Financial Times, an 18-month course at CEIBS costs US$62,600, while the worldwide average for an MBA is US$86,000.

In addition, Asian schools are more willing to provide scholarships. CEIBS subsidises 70% of its students, discounting between 40% and 100% of tuition fees.

Specialisation and innovation

The relative affordability allows Asian business schools to compensate, to some extent, for the lack of a prestigious reputation, which simply cannot be built in 10 or 20 years.

But this doesn’t mean these young schools lack specialised competencies. For example, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) business school specialises in investment activities and corporate finance. Another one of its competencies is completely unique – integration of regional economic systems.

Twenty years ago, Great Britain handed Hong Kong over to China, marking the beginning of a complex process of uniting two very different economic and political systems, which are studied in depth at HKUST. This unique specialisation has already garnered global recognition and attracts students. Similar developmental processes can be seen among the unofficial top 30 Asian schools.

The quality of education at the best Asian business schools is generally very high. The quality of the teaching staff is on a par with global centres of business education. Leading professors from the West often occupy full-time teaching positions. Schools actively develop research in their specialised fields, follow innovative educational practices and quickly implement them.

And most importantly, they are often more responsive to changes in the global economy, introducing new disciplines as they arise. As a result, some business courses in China and Singapore have no competitive disadvantage when compared to renowned Western education institutions.

Some programmes are even ranked as the best in the world – for example, the Executive MBA at HKUST, developed in partnership with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

A global approach

Asia generally adopts a very modern approach to education, and this is what sets it apart. American and European schools primarily educate their students about Western markets, relegating events from other parts of the globe to a position of secondary importance.

Obviously, it is impossible to teach business in today’s world without taking into account what’s happening in Asia. But for a typical American business school, this context is considered secondary, not primary.

In Asia, the opposite is true. Business schools see their mission as building a bridge between their countries and the West. Their main objective is to help students understand how business is organised around the world and in order to do that they immerse their students in a global context first and foremost.

Asian businessmen need this context to understand Western colleagues, work in American and European companies and build connections with the business community outside of Asia.

Once students learn in detail how Western business operates, professors in Asian business schools will extrapolate these global happenings to their local context, explaining how certain business disciplines, theories and laws are applicable in Asia.

This emphasis on global processes in educational programmes can be explained by the fact that Asian schools are well aware of the interest in understanding differences in mindsets as well as the recognition that a deep knowledge of other cultures is an important skill for contemporary businessmen operating globally.

Building educational programmes on these principles, which are truly innovative for the West, is something we want to try to adopt in our own programmes. With that in mind, these principles underpinned the creation of the new Executive MBA for Eurasia programme, developed by the SKOLKOVO Business School in partnership with the HKUST Business School.

This EMBA will provide a comprehensive understanding of the global market through the prism of a specific region – Eurasia – and a specific macroeconomic initiative – the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.

All of the above – relative affordability, high quality of education and modern approaches to learning – have enabled Asian business schools to become prominent players in the business education market, able to outcompete American and European institutions in a short period of time.

Without a doubt, their share of the market will grow. Today, 70% of HKUST Business School’s MBA students are from foreign countries, while at the NUS Business School at the National University of Singapore that number is even higher, at 87%.

Maxim Feldman is director of the HKUST-SKOLKOVO Executive MBA for Eurasia programme at SKOLKOVO Business School in Moscow, Russia.