There’s little doubt that China, India and Singapore have emerged as global economic powers. The Financial Times believes that the start of what it calls “The Asian Century” is already underway, with the Asian economies now larger than the rest of the world combined.
The economic growth, moreover, has helped to fuel an explosion in business education throughout Asia and the rise of those schools on the world stage.
The best proxy for measuring the impact of Asian business schools is the Financial Times global MBA ranking. When the FT launched its ranking in 1999 with a listing of the 50 top programs in the world, not a single Asian school made the list. The following year, the first Asian business school would break into the ranking, with Hong Kong University of Science & Technology debuting at a rank of 70th out of 75 MBA programs. In 2001, another Asian player joined the list, the National University of Singapore Business School, ranking 89th out of the 100 best in the world.
MAKING A MARK, LITTLE BY LITTLE, OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES
In nearly each subsequent year, little by little, Asian schools made more of a mark. By 2002, the list grew to four schools, including China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), first ranked 92nd. Six years later, in 2008, the first MBA program in India popped on the list, the Indian School of Business, debuting at an impressively high rank of 20th. Three years later, the first Indian Institute of Management program to make the FT’s ranking was IIM at Ahmedabad with an incredibly impressive debut rank of 11th best. Now there are four IIM programs ranked in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Indore.
With the newest 2021 ranking this month, there are now 17 business schools from Asian among the world’s top 100.
It’s a dizzying rise for a single region of the world. Those gains have largely been achieved at the expense of business schools in the U.S. and Europe. On the first FT ranking, 62% of the MBA programs were based in the U.S. while 32% were in Europe. Today, U.S. schools make up less than half, or 48% of the total, while European schools account for 26%.
Some of this momentum may be shifting of late. In its newest report on business school application trends, the Graduate Management Admission Council noted that protests in Hong Kong toward the end of 2019, followed by the start of COVID-19 in mainland China in 2020, dampened application volume this past year. “Given the compressed application trends reported by higher volume programs responding from Greater China and India, the growth in applications reported throughout other parts of the region were not enough to avoid an overall decline in application volume for 2020,” according to GMAC.
CEIBS IS THE CROWN JEWEL OF THE ASIAN BUSINESS SCHOOLS
That is likely to be merely a temporary pause. The crown jewel of business schools in Asia, at least as measured by the Financial Times, is CEIBS. In each of the past four years, the school’s 18-month MBA experience has consistently ranked among the Top 10 in the world. It has also been in the Top 25 of the FT rankings for a consecutive 17 years. This year the FT rated it the seventh best, after two consecutive years in fifth place, the highest rank ever achieved by an Asian school. All told, there are now four schools in the Top 25: CEIBS, the National University of Singapore’s Business School (14), Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (22), and the Indian School of Business (23).
What draws students outside Asia to these schools? Certainly, anyone who wants to take advantage of the explosion of opportunities in these economies would be well placed to do so with an MBA from an Asian school. Jan-Peter Boeckstiegel, a German who earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard, worked for McKinsey & Co. and is now an MBA student at CEIBS, puts it this way: “Raw, first-hand exposure to and experience with Chinese perspectives and approaches. It is living alongside Chinese students on campus, meeting Chinese business leaders and companies, and experiencing what it means to be a customer, co-worker, and manager in China, in the classroom and in the ‘real world’ beyond.”
Kenneth Jee, an MBA student from New York City at HKU Business Schools, was drawn to its MBA program by its China Immersion Program. “With the Asia-Pacific region being at the center of many international business ventures, the program’s focus on China’s vibrant and evolving business environment is particularly relevant,” he believes.”By participating in regular company visits and business field trips to China, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of international business while learning more about the necessary cultural dynamics and sensitivities needed to succeed in business in the region.”
THE BIG CHALLENGE FOR THE ASIAN SCHOOLS: DRAWING MORE STUDENTS FROM THE GLOBAL TALENT POOL
The big challenge for Asian schools is diversity. At CEIBS, for example, two-thirds of the students are from mainland China. Only 7% hail from North America and less than 10% from Europe. Many of those students are of Asian descent. As Caroline Diarte-Edwards, a co-founder of Fortuna Admissions and a former head of admissions for INSEAD, points out, “The growth of the Asian schools is largely driven by regional demand. I don’t see them attracting the top candidates from outside Asia. It will be interesting to see if that changes over time and if they become true challengers in attracting a truly global talent pool.”
By most U.S. or European standards, Asia’s options are relatively small MBA programs. At CEIBS, for example, the size of an incoming cohort is less than two of the 10 sections at Harvard Business School, with 157 MBA students in the Class of 2022. At HKU Business School, the Class of 2021 numbers just 51 students. One notable exception is the Indian School of Business which had 896 students enrolled for its Class of 2020.
The average class GMAT scores tend to be significantly lower than the top U.S. schools. At the National University of Singapore Business School, second highest ranked in Asia by the FT, the average is 670. At CEIBS, it’s 667. That’s a significant difference from the world’s other top business schools where Indian and Chinese candidates, because of their largest numbers in applicant pools, must generally score well above the class averages of the U.S. and European schools to which they apply. In fact, some admission consultants believe a Chinese applicant needs to score as high as a 760 on the GMAT to have a good chance at Wharton where the average class GMAT is now 732.