The Southeast Asia advantage for global MBA candidates

Updated: Jul 22

EXECUTIVE EDUCATION: Business schools in the Southeast Asia region are growing in popularity and in some cases, are now on par with traditionally more revered schools in Europe and the US.

Course quality is one thing, but there are a few more advantages regarding studying an MBA or Executive MBA in this part of the world.

The most obvious is the costs involved. While MBA programs in the US can often be difficult for students from developing countries to afford, pursuing an MBA in Singapore or Malaysia, for example, opens up many of the same doors, without leaving a candidate penniless.

While many schools in the region are still quite expensive, the average time for paying back an MBA is about 34 months, compared to 51 months in the US, and 39 months in Europe.

Loredana Padurean, Associate Dean of the Asia School of Business (ASB) in Kuala Lumpur (pictured, right), says studying in Asia is an excellent opportunity for students worldwide.

"Of the 47 students who started an MBA (at ASB) in 2018, 64% of them came from outside Malaysia, including Mexico, South Africa, Morocco, and Kenya," she explains.

"While MBA programs in the US can often be difficult for students from developing countries to afford, pursuing an MBA in Malaysia means you'll get the same experience and theoretical knowledge, without breaking the bank."

Since 2018, many MBA candidates have begun to see the appeal of Asian business schools. Applications to schools in the Asia-Pacific region rose 8.9% last year (even as US demand fell), according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council in Singapore.

Of course, the mere cost of an MBA should not be the only factor in deciding where, and if, to study. Matching affordability with academic rigour should be the goal. Many schools in Southeast Asia are becoming well known for a curriculum that provides real-world applications to theoretical problems. At INSEAD, for example, students are invited to lectures with industry professionals from several start-ups to give them exposure to that fast-moving part of the regional economy.

In recent times, leading professionals from established multinationals have also been guest lecturers, enriching the curriculum and provision offered by the school. Internships are another integral part of the MBA experience in Southeast Asia, with the best schools having relationships with some of the largest businesses in the region. In a traditional two-year MBA program, an internship program is usually integrated into the course structure, with that real-world experience ranging anywhere from a few weeks over summer, to 10 months of comprehensive learning.

Another institution, Nanyang Business School (NBS), organises students to complete a week-long business study mission, involving seminars with industry leaders and site visits to real-world workplaces. The programme allows students to build professional networks that will serve them well in their future endeavours.

This exposure creates vast opportunities for MBA candidates to find jobs across Southeast Asia's rapidly-developing tech sector. It is well known that despite having booming technical and digital markets, the region faces a talent deficit.This continuing gap provides students with an opportunity to make their mark and access well-paying jobs once they graduate.

With the region is home to eight unicorn start-ups, including ride-hailing and food delivery platform Grab and digital entertainment provider Garena, there are many opportunities to apply for in the burgeoning tech sector. Students from Southeast Asia and abroad recognise that studying a course in their own backyard is just as beneficial, if not more so, in the current uncertain economic climate.

This point is enforced by the earning potential of graduates from the region's best business schools. At the National University of Singapore (NUS), graduates have a 94% employment rate in the three months after graduation. Alumni of the MBA programme also enjoy a 131% salary differential compared to other local graduates. That’s significantly higher than the top US and European competitors such as Wharton (114%), MIT Sloan (107%), and London Business School (102%), according to the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2019.

This opinion was extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's report on Executive Education. For further coverage, and access to the full report, please see any of the below links:

The self-funded MBA army: New trends in post-Covid executive education (full report)

Asian business schools on the rise (news highlight).

Local demand for MBAs rising across Southeast Asia (feature).

MBA Graduates enjoy growing demand (infographic).

Southeast Asia's place in the global business school landscape (feature).

The virtual classroom: Exploring online MBA choices in Asia (feature).

MBAs and Executive MBAs: Who should be footing the bill? (feature).

Executive education: A reneweed case for employer sponsorship (opinion).

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