Asian Mosaic

Deans from three schools in Asia detail the state of business education in their countries.
Asian Mosaic

STRIVING IN SINGAPORE

Bernard Yeung is the dean and Stephen Riady Distinguished Professor in Finance and Strategic Management at the National University of Singapore Business School.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

One challenge is to develop good routines as we grow. For 50 years or more, leading schools such as Chicago, Stanford, and Harvard have developed routines in areas like research, faculty development, alumni relations, and student services. But our institution—which is representative of leading business schools outside the U.S., especially in Asia—is much younger. Our alumni office and our tenure system are only a little more than ten years old. Every day we must continue to develop and refine our routines, like many growing organizations with high aspirations.

Another challenge we face is that we have to streamline operating procedures. Asian universities are mostly state schools. In their growth phase, they understandably have bureaucracies monitoring activities to ensure efficiency. Like most state schools, we are making adjustments to be more efficient.

Improvements are necessary, because excessive monitoring, regulations, and bureaucracy deter people from taking responsibility and being innovative. All of us here are changing our mindsets and management styles to keep pace with a dynamic market. As business schools in Asia, we need to address the lack of human capital, instill the necessary drive and sense of responsibility in our people, and encourage them to take some risks.

On Global Faculty Recruitment

We are attracting more faculty from outside Asia for three reasons. The first is what I would call the attention factor. In the past, many faculty believed that the world paid less attention to academics in Asia. If new faculty were to choose between jobs at top schools in the U.S. or at NUS, they would be more likely to choose to go to schools in the U.S., where they thought it would be easier to be successful. In the past, we had to pay a premium to compensate for this discrepancy.

But as the world’s economic center of gravity is quickly shifting toward Asia, our industry is paying more attention to this part of the world. More people are willing to come here. As Asia gets richer, the region’s business schools are able to pay more globally competitive salaries. If faculty are especially forward- looking, they will say, “If I go to Asia, 20 years from now when I’m at my peak, I will be at the center of the world’s attention.”

The second reason is the challenge factor. Faculty in the U.S. and Europe are, in many respects, tweaking what is already there. But in Asia, faculty are dealing with new challenges. We are beginning to see more people who are curious and who want to make a significant impact choose to be here.

The third reason is the market factor—the “thickness” of the market makes a difference. Imagine you are a professor going to work in a remote place in the U.S. where very few universities are located. If you don’t

get tenure, it may be very difficult to find a new job in the same area. But if you go to work in New York City, there are many universities. Such a dense market facilitates job switching. That’s increasingly the case in Asia. As the market gets thicker in Asia, academics are more willing to come here.

If you look at the latest GMAC data, you’ll see that the number of students taking the GMAT is declining in the U.S., but it’s growing in this part of the world. Students are choosing business schools in Asia such as NUS Business School even though they have good opportunities in the U.S.

The reason? Which part of the world is growing fast? Asia. Where will students be able to fast-track their careers? Most likely in Asia. If students train at top business schools in this part of the world, they’ll get the connections and knowledge that will help them succeed here.

There is what I call a labeling effect among students and employers, where top U.S. schools have tended to have more of an advantage. If employers wanted to hire someone in finance, they might want a graduate of the University of Chicago. If they wanted general management, they might want someone from Harvard. But as Asian schools keep rising in the rankings, the advantage that top schools in the U.S. have is disappearing. Leading Asian business schools are attracting students globally. At NUS Business School, 10 to 15 percent of our students now come from the West.

On Classroom Diversity

Like all business schools, we consciously pay attention to diversity. We want our classrooms to integrate students from all over the world.

One way we help our students interact with one another is by giving them total responsibility for a part of the program. We let them run this program together and support them, but we do not interfere. For instance, each year our students run an international case competition called Cerebration, in which some 650 teams from around the world participate. Our students are responsible for arranging corporate sponsorships, as well as participants’ hotel accommodations and plane tickets. They even write their own cases. Students from a range of countries—including Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, China, Singapore, and India—must learn to work together.

On Finding Asia-Centric Cases

Do we have a lot of Harvard-like cases that focus specifically on Asia? Only a few, but they are growing in number. Do we have meaningful data to support vibrant, robust classroom exchanges? Definitely. Like other business schools, we encourage our faculty to use “caselets” drawn from current clinical information to provide our students with an understanding of the Asian market, as well as help them develop critical thinking, decision making, leadership, and management skills that fit our market context.

We also ask students to develop their own cases. In Singapore, we have the Enterprise 50 Awards (E50), an annual list of the top 50 small and medium enterprises. Our school has an agreement with E50 organizers for our students to shadow these entrepreneurs. The students then write three papers: a consultant report for the entrepreneur’s consumption, a class report for the instructor’s consumption, and a reflection report that describes what the student has learned on his or her personal journey. Each year, selected student reports are published in Singapore’s Business Times newspaper. We then compile these reports into books—we have produced five books so far. The entrepreneurs also buy these books, with the proceeds going to charity and funding scholarships. In this way, our students are contributing to learning in society.

This kind of activity isn’t just happening at NUS. Many schools in Asia are developing innovative approaches. Our mission is not to copy Harvard, Chicago, or Stanford. Rather, we are daring to define what a leading business school should be in Asia.

Biggest Hope or Fear for the Next Five Years

My fear is that we will become complacent. But my hope is that we recognize our responsibility and develop a sense of purpose. Our schools must support the economic renaissance of this part of the world. By developing the right culture, Asian business schools can transform themselves from successful organizations into significant organizations. That is what we strive to be.

DIFFERENTIATING IN THAILAND

Viput Ongsakul is dean of the NIDA Business School in Bangkok, Thailand.

BIGGEST MARKET CHALLENGE

More schools are seeking to differentiate their MBA programs. Some have tailored their programs to serve specific industries such as healthcare, aviation, real estate, or small and medium enterprises.

On Market Differentiation

To differentiate our school, we pursued and achieved AACSB accreditation. We’re also expanding our international network and investigating other accreditation and quality improvement systems. At the same time, we’ve internationalized our board of directors to include members from Belgium, Canada, Italy, South Korea, and Switzerland.

In addition, we’ve worked with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington to develop a dual-degree program. This helps us internationalize our program and gives our students access to the Kelley School’s faculty and extensive knowledge base.

Finally, we’ve developed a bilingual program for Thai students and an English language program for students from other countries. We know that to be an international school, we have to teach in the language of international business.

On Aligning Research with Mission

Achieving AACSB accreditation, with its emphasis on mission, made us realize that we could best serve our market by doing research that aligns with our strategic direction and that satisfies our stakeholders and funding agencies. In the past, we emphasized publishing research in high-impact journals, but that research did not necessarily support our strategy, so the knowledge developed didn’t always benefit our students and their employers. We have decided that what works best for us is pursuing research that impacts our business communities and our countries, and publishing our findings in international and school journals.

On the Thai Advantage

During the past five years, because of the U.S. financial crisis, ethics in finance has been a topic that seemed to take center stage at Western business schools. But in Thailand— partly because of our culture and the Thai philosophy of maintaining balance and harmony—we place less emphasis on financial performance than other countries do.

One advantage we have is that our region and nearby regions are experiencing economic growth. For that reason, foundational knowledge about certain industries has already been created through consulting and research projects. This makes it somewhat easier to match students’ needs with the right knowledge because our faculty are already familiar with problems that many companies face.

On the Flow of Students from East to West

Several barriers discourage a majority of Asian students from studying abroad: the overall expense, the time-resource demands, and the difficulty of gaining entry to other countries. To address these issues, many Western schools have developed partnerships with Asian schools.

I have also seen an increasing number of Western students coming to study in Asia in recent years. At NIDA, exchange students are exposed to culture, philosophy, and business and legal environments that are much different from the Western ones they’re familiar with. They learn that the solutions and approaches that work here can be quite different from those that work elsewhere in the world.

To help our exchange students learn more about Thailand, NIDA runs an annual one-week summer camp in June, organized by our office of international affairs. The theme of this year’s camp will focus on sustainable tourism to expose students to one of this region’s largest industries. The program will include academic workshops on the strengths and weaknesses of tourism in the ASEAN region, a one-day course in the Thai language, and field trips to nearby destinations such as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historical Park and Ayutthaya Klong Sa Bua Floating Market and Water Theatre.

Biggest Hope or Fear for the Next Five Years

We are most concerned with the new competition emerging in our own region. In response, NIDA will focus on what we do best: develop business leaders and managers through teaching, training, and consulting.

Biggest Challenge

Out of the more than 15,000 business schools in the world, approximately 4,000 of them are in India. This has led to an oversupply of graduates and a lack of employment for many.

In fact, India faces a huge problem of trying to generate employment for its 1.2 billion people—more than half of whom are younger than 25. Traditionally, only a very small percentage of overall Indian employment has come from organized, formal jobs. The problem has been exacerbated because the Indian economy has slowed to a GDP growth rate of around 5 percent, and recent economic growth has produced very few new jobs. That has left our business school graduates—even those from the top 50 business schools—in fierce competition for employment.

Not only are there too many business schools, there are two distinct categories of business education in India. One type is affiliated with a university and comes with an MBA degree. The other category consists of the Indian Institutes of Management and the standalone business schools that offer post-graduate diplomas in management (PGDMs); most of the high-performing schools fall into this category.

To make matters more confusing, the two categories are regulated by different bodies: University- affiliated MBAs are overseen by the University Grants Commission, while PGDMs (excluding the IIMs) are regulated by the All Indian Council for Technical Education. In the past, the AICTE also regulated MBA degrees, but the Indian Supreme Court recently questioned AICTE’s authority over MBA education. Every effort to develop effective regulation has led to greater mess, resulting in a policy vacuum.

On Quality and Capacity

In this hyper-competitive market, the only way to move forward is to improve quality. At IMT Nagpur, which is a standalone school that awards PGDMs, our focus has been on upgrading the curriculum and pedagogy by incorporating current industry perspectives.

We’ve also looked for ways to build capacity among our faculty. For instance, we conduct management development programs for junior and senior corporate executives, and faculty members who participate gain insights into business practices. We also encourage faculty who have little industry experience to study company reports and read relevant articles—although they must overcome the commonly held belief that books and journals are the only sources of knowledge.

In addition, we conduct training programs for entrepreneurs and CEOs of small and medium enterprises. Many of these individuals have been keen to narrate their business challenges, which our faculty members can turn into case studies. However, only a limited number of faculty members are interested in these endeavors, and the resulting case studies often fail to capture the complexities of business in a holistic sense.

On India’s Model for Education

Developing nations will have very different reactions to issues such as World Trade Organization norms or Federal Reserve tapering or climate change. The issues are global, but how they impact business in developing nations will be unique to those nations.

Therefore, many Indian business schools have been trying to create India-specific curricula that focus on Indian business models and leadership challenges. At my school, for instance, we’re designing a curriculum that caters to the needs of business managers in developing nations but still offers a global perspective. Taking a cue from a Harvard Business School class that examined business history as it unfolded in Europe, North America, and Japan, we plan to offer a course on the history of business education in the developing world. Our version would also focus on China, India, the ASEAN block, Africa, and the Middle East. We plan to include this course, and a few others like it, in our ongoing revamp of our curriculum.

Providing such Asia-specific courses will be even more important when Western business schools begin to enter our market. If we’re offering the same curricula that Western schools do, Indian institutions will take a beating.

Of course, Eastern business schools must teach the fundamental business basics that Western schools do—but I believe Western business schools also should cover models and concepts that are unique to Asia, or at least that originated here. These range from kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement that informs Toyota’s Production System (TPS), to the Beijing Consensus, which refers to a business model in which the government is heavily involved in stimulating economic growth. Any school that claims to be global ought to provide insights into both Western and Eastern business philosophies.

Biggest Hope or Fear for the Next Five Years

My hope is for better quality of business education in India as existing schools with poor infrastructure are closed or consolidated. I don’t believe the market can sustain the number of business schools we have now. I also hope to attain stable, fair, and uniform regulatory policies that will cover foreign universities, Indian state-owned universities, and Indian private universities.

My fear is that more schools will continue to struggle but remain operational and that regulatory policies won’t improve, leading to a bitterly competitive market for business education. If business school administrators worry about admissions and placements on a year-to-year basis, they risk compromising on the key deliverables: designing industry-relevant learning objectives, displaying innovation, and maintaining a strong ethical orientation. Excluding the IIMs with their strong reputations, the vast majority of Indian business schools face significant challenges in the years ahead.