The Case For Getting Your MBA In Asia

Have Asian business schools come of age?

Can Asia ever become a real challenger to the dominance of the U.S.-Europe axis in management education?

This time last year the answer to that among many in the business education community might have been along the lines of “eventually, perhaps, but not any day soon.” However, the world today is a somewhat different one to that of only a year ago.

The political turmoil of Brexit, travel bans from the new administration in the White House, ongoing conflict in parts of the Middle East, major elections in Europe and the ever-unpredictable behavior of Vladimir Putin all mean that, if there ever were any real certainties about world events, they seem to be on hold for the foreseeable future. Particularly in the traditional twin homes of business education in the U.S. and Europe.


And this in turn is further accelerating the growth and popularity of leading schools in Asia as potential students seek new alternatives. In 2017, no less than seven of the top 30 MBA programs ranked by the Financial Times were based in Asia. Ten years ago there were two.

Despite being relatively new participants in the global MBA market, schools here had already been benefiting from the fact that Asia has long been the fastest growing economic region in the world, and also its largest continental economy by GDP. The Belt and Road initiative to invest massive amounts of capital on infrastructure projects is expected to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific even further. This growth translates into the world’s most dynamic job market, and MBA graduates are reaping the benefits.

When it comes to salary increase, as measured by the Financial Times, five of the top seven schools are in Asia. Of those five, 100% of the graduates from two schools – Nanyang Business School and Shanghai Jiao Tong University – had found employment within three months. Indeed this was the second year in succession that the entire Nanyang MBA class was fully employed. With more than 6,000 multinationals based in the country, attracted by the stable business environment, high quality of life, and well-educated cosmopolitan workforce, Singapore looks like a safe bet when compared to the west.


So though the draw of the ‘usual suspects’ among the business schools of the U.S. and Europe remains strong, many potential students are attracted by the idea of living, studying and getting ahead in this economic cockpit rather than viewing it from a distance. And with the growing appeal of the one-year MBA program, the ROI of Asian business schools has never looked better.

CEIBS in Shanghai tends to score well in most rankings given that China’s economy has now overtaken that of the U.S. in terms of the usual ‘Purchasing Power Parity’ index. However, so far it is only one of a handful of established business schools in this massive and highly diverse country. A new generation of players is in development, but many are still struggling to embrace both local and global approaches, not just to business, but also to the teaching of business. How long it will take them to overcome this and offer real alternatives to major schools in the West is still to be seen.

As a result mainland China has by no means been able to dominate the Asian business school scene, despite the excitement about its economic performance. India, for example, has at least two significant schools – Indian School of Business and Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad – with strong international reputations, although, as yet, both cater mainly to the domestic population. South Korea has developed a strong player at Sungkyunkwan University GSB, which now has around a third of students from abroad. However, both Hong Kong and Singapore have established themselves as highly successful ‘offshore hubs’ for business education in Asia, allowing them to build classes as diverse as any in top Western schools. The Nanyang Business School at NTU Singapore recruits 89% of its students from overseas.

Singapore and Hong Kong, moreover, are home to a number of initiatives to focus business education more closely on the particular challenges and opportunities inherent in key Asian markets. Nanyang, for example, runs the award winning Asian Business Case Centre, which is designed to help redress the traditional bias of case studies used at major business schools towards Western economies and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight, which, as the name suggests, helps global brands to better understand consumers across the continent.

So while U.S. and European schools may still continue to scoop up a significant number of students for the foreseeable future the tide is on the turn and Asian schools have now taken their rightful place as key players in the global business education market.