The decision to head East is about more than your destination – it’s about a new way of seeing things. And for many young professionals, the dynamic business environment of Asia is an irresistible opportunity to gain boots-on-the-ground experience in some of the world’s fastest-growing markets.
The region is home to four of the five most populated countries on the planet, and the war for talent that McKinsey first coined in 1997 now has the added dimension of training the next generation of business leaders for digital transformation and AI-driven innovation. Twenty-five years later, Asia has a growing number of world-class business schools to meet that challenge.
As former Graduate Management Admission Council CEO Sangeet Chowfla points out, in 2000, MBA programs domiciled in the U.S. occupied 38 of the top 50 positions in the Financial Times global MBA ranking. Schools in Asia had none. “This year the U.S. had 29 positions while Asia had eight,” he notes. “Europe makes up the rest. It’s not that U.S. schools have gotten worse, it’s just that others have caught up, and students have more choices.”
The CentreCourt MBA Festival with Poets&Quants in June 2023 will include a special focus on the best business schools in Asia. Below is a review of seven of the hottest MBA programs in the region.
Asia School of Business
Tuition fees: 150,000 Malaysian Ringgits ($33.5K)
Class size: 40 students
Program length: 12 months
Bringing the M7 to Malaysia, Asia School of Business (ASB) offers an MBA program that stands among the most innovative and affordable among the region’s leading business schools.
Based in Kuala Lumpur, a city that is one of the world’s most diverse melting pots, the school was founded in collaboration with MIT Sloan and Bank Negara Malaysia, the country’s central bank. Students benefit from a teaching approach that Poets&Quants describes as “experiential learning on steroids”, making for a truly unusual yet insightful time.
MIT Sloan’s world-renowned faculty teach 50% of the one-year MBA curriculum in KL alongside ASB faculty, and students spend a 3-week immersion at MIT Sloan in Cambridge, MA. They can extend their learning opportunities by applying to study at MIT in the Visiting Fellows Program or apply to enroll in the nine-month STEM-designated MS in Management Studies from MIT Sloan.
Academic rigor is combined with Action Learning experiences throughout Asia, including industry treks and business practicums as well as group projects and associate programs at host organizations.
“Through my Action Learning projects in Malaysia, Thailand, Germany, and Vietnam, I learned that there are different ways to run a business in companies that were sometimes American and sometimes 100 percent Thai or Vietnamese, we developed a common language to understand the problem and deliver results,” says Klara Markus, MBA Class of 2019 and now a Senior Manager at Amazon.
Of course, when applying for a full-time program that lasts for an entire year, students are making a lifestyle commitment as well as an educational one. With sun-kissed beaches, a plethora of Asian culture and cuisine, and one of the world’s oldest rainforests practically on your doorstep, there are plenty of opportunities to expand your horizons outside of the classroom too.
And at less than $35,000 for an intensive 12-month MBA program, you’re getting an M7 experience with outstanding ROI.
China Europe International Business School (CEIBS)
Tuition fees: 468,000 Yuan ($68K)
Class size: 133 students
Program length: 16 months
Established in 1994 by the Chinese government and the European Union, CEIBS is committed to delivering on the idea of “China Depth, Global Breadth”. Offering a full-time MBA program lasting 16 months, the school provides a solid foundation for students with enough flexibility in course design to give them a springboard into whichever career path they choose.
The CEIBS MBA has rapidly risen in the major rankings and is now a regular feature in the top 20 of the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking. While the percentage of international students has declined during the pandemic, the number is expected to return to more than 35% which made up the MBA Class of 2023. And when it comes to gender balance, CEIBS has welcomed at least 50% of women in the past two years.
The MBA program design at CEIBS includes unique elements like the in-house China Discovery elective series offered each year to MBAs. The course is designed to deepen students’ understanding of China’s business environment, giving them the opportunity to analyze different perspectives on the country’s history. Students also enjoy engaging in a host of professional, athletic, and social clubs.
“Unlike other top business schools, which have separate clubs for different areas of finance, CEIBS has just one, and it is by far the largest professional club on campus. And, as my classmates will attest, no matter how much you dislike finance, you have to understand the basics in order to graduate,” says Neil Flynn, a former president of the Finance & Investment Club and member of the MBA Class of 2021.
CEIBS lives up to its name, with faculty drawn in roughly equal thirds from China, Europe, and the US. It also boasts the largest alumni network of any business school in China, with over 20,000 graduates spread across the globe.
The campus is situated in Shanghai, the third most populated city in the world and China’s dynamic financial center. Once a small fishing village called “Shen”, it became one of the first Chinese cities to open up to Western trade, now claiming one of the largest seaports and contributing to some of the highest post-MBA earnings in Asia.
Tuition fees: €97,000 ($104K)
Class size: 1,000 students
Program length: 10 months
INSEAD has been welcoming students since the late 1950s. Over more than six decades, it has expanded its global reach, with three campuses in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East respectively. The Singapore campus opened in 2000 and has been one of the great success stories of international business school expansion. The full-time MBA program has made the top 10 in the FT Global MBA Ranking since 2000, achieving the #1 position on three occasions – 2016, 2017, and 2021.
The school prides itself on delivering a diverse, multicultural experience, with up to 80 different nationalities on its programs, and raising the number of female applicants to around 40 percent in recent years. INSEAD has never waivered from a three-language policy for the MBA, requiring that candidates must be fluent in English and have a practical level of knowledge in a second language to start the programme, and then certify a basic level of a third commercially useful language to graduate. INSEAD lives up to its goal of being “The Business School for the World”, encouraging its students to dip their toes into multiple different cultural and business environments.
“Learning to lead across different cultures and geographies is critical to success. This is why we have three campuses for the MBA; in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, and developed our partnerships with Wharton and Kellogg in the U.S., and CEIBS in China,” says Associate Director, Aileen Huang.
The Singapore campus is located in the Knowledge Hub district, conveniently situated 15 minutes away from the financial district and 30 minutes from Changi Airport. Established in 1999, the campus set INSEAD apart as the first business school with its feet planted firmly in both Europe and Asia.
The MBA at INSEAD has a powerful international presence, placing second in the Financial Times 2023 global ranking behind Columbia Business School. It is the highest-ranked program of its kind in Asia, with McKinsey, BCG and Bain among many top employers that hire in significant numbers. The school also has a strong reputation for entrepreneurship – by 2021 over 700 alumni of the school had founded more than 600 companies, which in total raised $23 billion.
INSEAD accepts students into the program based on four criteria: their ability to contribute insights based on personal and professional experience, their academic capabilities based on previous history and GMAT/GRE scores, their international outlook including proficiency in English, and their leadership potential.
Students accepted into the program will take 14 core courses covering topics such as Finance, Economics, and Ethics, with 75 other electives to choose from on a diverse range of disciplines including Political Science and Technology. INSEAD’s Career Development Centre connects students with career professionals before and during their time on campus.
ISB – Indian School of Business
Tuition fees: 4,163,000 Rupees ($51K)
Class size: 934 students
Program length: 12 months
When the Indian School of Business launched a little over 20 years ago, the founding senior executives at McKinsey established the support of Wharton and Northwestern Kellogg to create a world-class business school in Asia to anticipate the leadership needs of emerging Asian economies.
The Post Graduate Programme (PGP), a global MBA equivalent offers students a degree taught by some of the best faculty in the world, designed to teach them how to work effectively in teams, adopt critical thinking skills, and learn how to communicate clearly. The goal is to produce the next generation of ethically responsible business managers.
With campuses in Hyderabad and Mohali, the Indian School of Business adopts a “One-School, Two Campuses” mentality, which is fitting for an institution whose size has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. The most recent MBA class is now 929-strong, the largest of any equivalent program in the country. The same class received 2,066 job offers from 270 different companies, 41 percent of which were made specifically to women students.
In addition to its global partnerships with M7 schools, the Indian School of Business has a triple crown accreditation from AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA, achieving this recognition in record time.
The school’s rapid ascension in the business education field, including an impressive rise in the FT Global MBA ranking to reach #23 in 2021 is reflective of India’s expanding presence on the world stage. Indeed, programs offered at Indian Business School pay close attention to emerging economies, with particular insight on the domestic business landscape.
After all, the students who will become tomorrow’s business leaders need to be prepared for dealing with the key players that will emerge over the next decade, not just those that are already in positions of importance.
“Established conglomerates and start-ups alike have made ISB their campus of choice when scouting for high-quality talent. The PGP at ISB has become eponymous with diversity. One of the many reasons recruiters like our students is their ability to get things done,” says Professor Ramabhadran Thirumalai, Deputy Dean of Academic Programs at the Indian School of Business.
National University of Singapore Business School
Tuition fees: 91,090 Singapore Dollars ($68K)
Class size: 120 students
Program length: 17 months
As with other institutions on this list, the National University of Singapore Business School is located in a thriving local business ecosystem with a big impact on the global stage. The world’s only true sovereign city-state, Singapore is home to five million people and four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.
This provides just a snapshot of the multicultural environment the university is immersed in, which makes it a great place to study for anyone aspiring to a pan-Asian career. Especially since Singapore is also where more than 4,000 multinational companies, including Google, Facebook, and Proctor & Gamble, all chose to establish their Asia Pacific headquarters.
The school’s MBA program places 25th worldwide in the most recent Financial Times ranking. Graduates enjoy an extremely high level of employability – 94 percent have jobs within three months after graduation, 89 percent of which are secured through the business school’s career service or other university-related activities.
NUS Business School students have access to a vast network of alumni, some 38,000 strong. When broadening this out to encompass the university as a whole, this grows to over a quarter of a million people.
Connection is key at a school that appreciates it is both what you know and who you know that enables you to forge a successful career and become an agent for change. NUS Business School is a member of the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), a group of 30 business schools from around the world, allowing students to travel to different partner institutions to gain international experience.
In line with this global outlook, the school offers global immersion programs, which involve participants taking week-long company visits and cultural immersion trips to cities including London, Delhi, Manila, and Sydney. For those with a more entrepreneurial focus to their ambitions, the NUS Lean Launchpad puts students in contact with scientists and engineers looking to create businesses based on their research.
Shanghai University of Finance and Economics
Tuition fees: 288,000 Yuan ($41.5K)
Class size: 6,300 students
Program length: 24 months
Meteoric would be the correct way to describe SUFE’s rise through the rankings to take the top position in the Asia Pacific region as rated in Bloomberg, and exploding onto the Financial Times global MBA ranking tied for 23rd with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.
Starting out as a business program at the Nanjing Higher Normal School in 1917, slow growth and maturation over almost 70 years led the school to be where it is today. Since 2000, the university has been jointly developed by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, with a view to cementing its reputation as an internationally renowned research university specializing in finance and economics.
SUFE is spread across three campuses, with its main campus located on Guoding Road. The university is surrounded by a plethora of opportunities for students to immerse themselves in Chinese culture, from a range of local restaurants to the nearby Gongqing Forest Park and the Shanghai Museum of Glass.
Drawing on talented faculty domestically and from abroad, the university’s academic goals include a firm commitment to “strengthen morality”, reflecting the importance SUFE places on ethical business. In a world where global challenges require international cooperation, the school appreciates that consistency and integrity are integral to effective collaboration.
Of course, it is not all about the classroom. Like other schools on this list, SUFE offers a wide range of extracurricular opportunities. There are 78 student clubs and societies, spanning professional activities like the Accounting Association to more recreational pastimes such as golf, karate, tea arts, and even the Sunshine Public Welfare Club.
University of Hong Kong Business School
Tuition fees: 588,000 Hong Kong Dollars ($75K)
Class size: 89 students
Program length: 12 months
HKU is the oldest and most prestigious university in Hong Kong, established in 1911. The Business School offers a one-year intensive MBA among its roster of nine undergraduate and 16 postgraduate programs, which was voted the best in Asia by the Economist Intelligence Unit for nine consecutive years from 2010-2018.
“After doing my research, I chose the HKU MBA program because of the well-designed curriculum, great faculty, insights to doing business in China, and the well-connected alumni network. The University of Hong Kong is a world-class university located in a region that enjoys a strong economy and international competitiveness,” says Sandra Zheng, from the MBA class of 2022.
Woven into the course’s core curriculum on economics, accounting, marketing, and so on, is a series of workshops that focuses on developing MBAs’ soft skills. These workshops cover areas such as Building Your Leadership Presence and Personal Brand, and Business Communication and Presentation Skills, among other competencies.
In an international business environment that is increasingly characterized as unstable, uncertain, and complex, HKU is an institution that appreciates leaders of the future need to be able to connect with their employees on an emotional level in order to be transparent and inspiring corporate role models.
The campus is split across three locations in a city that is home to 7.5 million people spread over 263 islands. Most Master’s-level courses are held on the Cyberport campus in the southwest, about 20 minutes from the city center. The main campus is located in Pokfulam, the central and western district, and the third is downtown in Admiralty.
In its most recent cohort, HKU Business School welcomed 89 students onto its MBA program alone, a large 42 percent majority of whom come from China. However, there are also significant numbers of applicants from Japan, India, and Canada. Overall, the class represents 21 different regions globally.