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Foreign students on the rise as Asia soars

Published on Friday, 25 Jan 2013
Lawrence Chan

In the past couple of years, we have seen some key trends develop at Asian business schools. One of the biggest is globalisation, which all the key schools are talking about. Related to this, we have also seen that the top five or six schools are admitting a large number of foreign students onto their full-time programmes.

This is especially true in Hong Kong. At the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School, for example, about 90 per cent of students on our full-time MBA programme are from outside Hong Kong, coming from about 20 different countries.

About 30 per cent of our foreign students are from the US and Europe. Many of them want to work in Asia after they graduate, with between 60 and 70 per cent wanting to pursue careers in Greater China. Only 20 to 30 per cent of them want to go home.

So why do they come here? A lot of them are attracted by the economic development in Asia in general, and in China in particular. The trend is growing, with more students from other parts of the world wanting to study here.

We first started admitting foreign students in the 1980s. There were only a few at first, but in the last four to five years there has been a significant increase. Our first mainland students came in 1990. They now account for a significant proportion of our non-local students.

Traditionally, nearly all of our part-time students were from Hong Kong. Now about 30 to 40 per cent are either foreigners working in Hong Kong or mainlanders working in southern China. We also have students from Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Europe.

The key schools in the region are building global connections. We are building a lot of global relationships to broaden the exposure of our students. We have exchange programmes with 50 universities around the world. We offer double-degree programmes with the Massachusetts School of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin in the US, Cambridge University in the UK, HEC in France, and the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands.

We also organise three 10-day field trips to various parts of the world such as China, Europe, and the US, which include classes, company visits and business-case projects.

Research tells us that our students are strong in hard skills, but they need more help developing their soft skills. So we are putting a lot more attention on soft-skills training such as leadership, team building, cross-cultural management and adaptability.

 A lot of this takes place outside the classroom. Students are encouraged, for example, to take part in overseas competitions. A lot of our coursework is team-based, where students have to develop a plan and make a presentation. This prepares them for these competitions.

When recruiting MBA graduates, a lot of consulting companies employ a similar strategy and use a case-based interview. Applicants are given a very short time frame in which to write a case, so we give them formal training in how to do this.

Companies employing our graduates are typically multinationals with operations in the region. An increasing number of Chinese companies are also hiring our graduates because they want to expand overseas. They are looking for people with diverse exposure and an ability to work with different types of people in an East-meets-West environment.

Language skills are also becoming more important. We therefore now offer an intensive two-month course in Mandarin, which students can take before the MBA course begins. We do this in the summer because it would be difficult for students to study the language while working on their MBA. They study between six and seven hours a day.

We offer a US-style curriculum. When we were established in 1963, we were modelled after UC Berkeley, with Chinese elements blended in. For example, we have classes – mostly electives – with Chinese content that focus on taxation, capital markets, fundraising and supply-chain management in China.

Lawrence Chan is administrative director (marketing and student recruiting) of MBA programmes/EMBA Chinese programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School
As told to Michael Taylor

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