Asian management schools: what are their features and is it worth studying there?


For several years now we have been observing how a new economic geography of the world is taking shape. A clear trend that stands out in this reshaping is a marked shift towards Asia.

Expanding its presence in the Asian region, Russian business increasingly needs information about it - and specialists with such knowledge. People who understand how to do business in Asia tend to be graduates from local business schools. What kind of schools are these, how they differ from Western ones and whether it is worth studying in them, we will look into this article.

The most famous management schools in Asia
In 2023, the Financial Times' ranking of the best business schools included 16 educational institutions from the Asian region. The highest place among them was taken by the China-Europe International Business School (CEIBS): it was in 20th place in the overall ranking, ahead of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (23rd place) and the National University of Singapore (25th place).

Bloomberg has also compiled its list of the best Asian schools. It also included educational institutions listed in the Financial Times. Based on these two rankings, the 10 best and most famous management schools in the region can be determined:

     Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST);
     Shanghai University of Finance and Economics;
     China Europe International Business School (CEIBS);
     Nanyang Technological University (NTU, Singapore);
     Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM Bangalore);
     Indian School of Business (ISB);
     Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University (SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business);
     Business School, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK);
     Fudan University;
     National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Financial Times rankings seem to ignore Asian schools, with far fewer of them on the list than schools from other regions, mostly American and European. What is the reason?

Why are there few Asian schools on the international stage?
The modest representation of Asian schools in international rankings does not at all indicate the low quality of education in these institutions. They are not very well known on the global stage due to the fact that they are primarily aimed at the domestic market. This trend logically fits into the changed economic geography. As economic growth accelerates in the countries of the Asian region, local companies increasingly need highly qualified managers. The demand for managers is growing, and with it the popularity of local business schools.

Also, do not forget that management education is a relatively new phenomenon in Asia. The Institute of Business Management at the University of Karachi (Pakistan) is called the author of the first MBA program in the region. Its launch took place in 1955. It is quite difficult to determine exactly which business school was the first in Asia. But it is known, for example, that CEIBS was the first to open on the Chinese mainland - this happened in 1994. It is not surprising that in 1999, when the Financial Times first published its ranking, there was not a single Asian school in it.

By comparison, the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP), considered by many to be the oldest management school in the world, opened its doors back in 1819, and Harvard Business School is most often credited with launching the first MBA program. This happened in 1908.

Features of Asian schools
The Asian approach to doing business is radically different from the European or American approach we are used to. Therefore, it is natural that business schools in the region have their own specifics.

First, they often include disciplines at the intersection of business and the humanities in their curricula. For example, at Fudan University, the program plans for senior managers include courses such as “Humanistic Management”, “Philosophy of Management”, “History and Heritage”. Korea University Business School (KUBS) also offers courses on culture, history, and Korean philosophy. And the Thai Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration positions itself as an educational institution that prepares “flexible” students by integrating Buddhism into the curricula of various programs.

Secondly, there are noticeably fewer programs on social entrepreneurship and sustainable development in Asian management schools than in Western ones. This is also a local feature: Asian institutions are just beginning to develop the ESG agenda.

Thirdly, as already noted, Asian schools are largely focused on local demand. Programs in English are much less common there than in European educational institutions.

According to GMAC, an organization that administers the international business school entrance exam and regularly produces analytical reports on business education around the world, 98% of applications to business administration programs in Asia come from the region. In Europe, only 24% of all applications

falls on citizens of European countries.

Fourth, unlike Western schools, Asian schools rarely include a leadership track as a separate component of the program. In recent years, however, the situation has been changing: the region’s leading management schools are turning towards leadership disciplines. Along with the focus on studying digitalization and artificial intelligence, separate leadership development courses for top managers are appearing in open program portfolios - with their own well-developed methodology and design.

No matter how unusual the Asian approach to business education may seem to us, the West sees its strengths and recognizes its achievements. In November 2023, Zhang Ruimin, President of Haier Corporation, received the Thinkers 50 Award, the Oscar of management education. He has been praised for creating an innovative business model that combines the essence of traditional Chinese culture with modern Western business concepts. Zhang Ruimin developed his own management ideology, called RenDanHeYi. It is based on, on the one hand, savings by reducing the number of middle managers, and on the other, encouraging innovation, flexibility and risk-taking.

Business schools are global institutions. Wherever they are located, many of their characteristics are similar. They also have their own characteristics, but they often depend not on geography, but on the DNA of the school, professors and programs that they implement. However, Asian schools have regional specificities, and students should take this into account when choosing an educational institution. At the same time, it makes sense for schools from other regions, in particular Russian ones, to take a closer look at the experience of their Asian colleagues, study their programs and adopt some features. This is especially true in light of the turn of domestic business to the East.

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