Asian M.B.A. Programs on the Rise

More students—including U.S. candidates—are pursuing business school in China and India.

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It's official: Management education in Asia is booming. With four schools firmly ensconced in the Financial Times top 20 global M.B.A. rankings—China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Hong Kong UST Business School, the Indian School of Business, and the Indian Institute of Management—those who pursue an M.B.A. in Asia are banking on the idea that studying in the region will open doors faster, and wider, than ever before. 

Flexibility and cost are just two factors swaying applicants to look at programs in the Far East. Most are much shorter than the traditional two-year program in the United States and are significantly less expensive than the top American programs.

For international applicants, a program in their home country or region may offer better opportunities for career advancement. And as a student from the United States pursuing international opportunities, a school in the target region may have similar benefits.

[Read more about the search for a world-class M.B.A.]

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT exam, noted the eastern shift in its recently released "World Geographic Trend Report." GMAT test-taking is at an all-time high among Chinese citizens, the Council reports, as China has become the largest group in Asia sitting for the GMAT exam and the second-largest group in the world.

This increase, says GMAC Asia Pacific Regional Director Julia Herries, reflects the growing need of young Chinese for quality graduate management education to better equip them for positions in the domestic market's public and burgeoning private sectors.

"The wealth of opportunities reflects China's extraordinary ascendancy as an economic power…and the need for talented management professionals to steer its development course while tackling a complex variety of attendant socioeconomic challenges," Herries says.

John Quelch, the new dean at CEIBS as of February 1, wants to tap into China's growing economy and aims to position the school to help. "Instead of being focused on teaching what we already know, we now have to be focused on creating new knowledge that is China-based, because it's absolutely clear that China is going to shift from a production economy to a knowledge economy," Quelch said in a Forbes.com profile earlier this week. Once the dean of London Business School, Quelch took the reins at the Chinese school after a 10-year stint as associate dean at Harvard Business School.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]

CEIBS, which launched in 1994 as a joint venture with the Chinese government and the European Commission, has seen its reputation soar due in large part to the success of its Executive M.B.A. program. With 800 students this year, it is the world's largest (versus only 200 in CEIBS's M.B.A. program), Forbes reports.

The program has also seen a jump in American applicants over the past five years, Lydia Price, the school's former dean, told The Wall Street Journal last summer. Almost 8 percent of the class of 2009 was made up of U.S. students. Many are self-selecting for an education in Asia, taking Mandarin language courses and studying up on Chinese markets and business well before applying.

Coming from Harvard, where one can afford to be blasé about rankings, Quelch admits that the ranking you achieve at a second-tier school actually does have significant impact in terms of driving M.B.A. applications.

"Obviously the bigger the M.B.A. application pool, the more selective we can be in terms of the submissions, and the better the students you get (and) the better the faculty you're going to get and retain, because they want to teach good students and work with good students. So like it or not, ranking is important," Quelch says.

[Explore U.S. News's rankings of the Top 50 Asian Universities.]

With that in mind, Asian universities have stepped up their game when it comes to competing for students. CEIBS, HKUST Business School, the Indian School of Business, and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University have formed their own so-called Asian Ivy League and now recruit jointly to raise visibility and lure more Western candidates.

Calling itself "Asia4," the group has established a Web presence and touts the region as the first-choice destination for management education, a place where one can learn to address the challenges of today's increasingly complex business world.

Whether the goal is to establish themselves ahead of U.S. candidates for international jobs, or simply to have a degree that carries the cachet of regional knowledge, it's clear students in China and the West have found a new destination for top-flight management education.