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Asian schools start to make up ground

Universities from across Asia have been slowly making their presence felt in the world's university ranking tables. Hong Kong is no exception, and the rising prominence of its professional and executive education programmes is testament to their quality and the quality of students, faculty and research.

Sunil Chopra, dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the United States, was in town recently to discuss the importance of Asian economies, especially the competitive advantage they may have in the aftermath of the global recession.

He also shed light on the importance of business education in the region and what it may take for business schools in Asia, especially those on the mainland, to succeed on the international stage.

"There are three things that a business school really needs to focus on: research, pedagogy and the accomplishments of its alumni," he explains. "To get really well known, you have to develop all three."

Chopra says that schools can achieve these aims by having at their core an ability not only to disseminate knowledge but also to create it.

"A lot of Asian business schools are at the early stages - but moving up nicely - of being great at knowledge dissemination. They are relatively early on alumni creation, and it will take a while for the true accomplishments of many of their alumni to show. I think where they may be furthest behind [top US and European business schools] is in the area of knowledge creation."

He explains that, outside Hong Kong, Asian schools are not quite at the same level of knowledge creation as their American and European counterparts, that are further ahead in terms of research.

Investing in knowledge creation is key, he says, and wise investments can pay off surprisingly quickly. "I would give the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) here a lot of credit. They have invested heavily in knowledge creation and in just 20 years they have made remarkable progress."

When it comes to creating an alumni network, things will of course take more time, but it is just as essential as building on knowledge creation. In difficult times, such as the global financial crisis, we are only now pulling out of, the importance of a good alumni network is doubled.

"Students can get great benefit from their alumni networks, and we have seen recently that these benefits can come from not only alumni providing internships but also in providing jobs for graduates," Chopra says.

He cites the example of programmes that Kellogg's alumni have created to offer internships and opportunities to graduates in the fields of venture capital, private equity and asset management.

Asian economies are a major focus of all reputable business schools, no matter where they are based. Schools from across the US and Europe are keen to develop links and ties with Asian schools in order to offer Asian perspectives to Western students and vice versa.

Some of the best-known collaborations include schools from three or four different regions, such as the EMBA-Global programme offered by the University of Hong Kong, London Business School and Columbia Business School in the US. Students on such programmes benefit from being able to study with an international group of students and from studying at their partner university's home countries for part of their programme - and enjoy a huge alumni network.

It seems, Chopra says, that these collaborative partnerships could be the way ahead for many business schools as so much of business today is conducted globally, requiring executives to be familiar with Western and Eastern business culture and practice.

The Kellogg School of Management has been active in Asia for many years now, with its EMBA offered in conjunction with HKUST being one its most successful programmes. Since its first group of students was taken in nearly 12 years ago, the programme has risen to be ranked by the Financial Times as No1 in the world.

Outside Hong Kong, Kellogg helped launch the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration in Thailand in 1982. It now has one of the largest MBA programmes in Asia. In India, Kellogg worked with the Wharton School and India Business School to create affordable, world-class business education in the country.

On the mainland, Kellogg has extensive co-operation and exchange programmes with the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University.

"We also have exchange and co-operative relationships in Japan and Korea, as well as other countries, and aim to build on all these relationships in the future," Chopra says. " In our US programmes about 15 per cent of our class come from Asia, and what is more interesting is that about 11 per cent of graduates started their first job after graduating, in Asia."

He explains that the 11 per cent are not all Asian students, with many coming from the US and Europe. "I expect this figure to grow in the coming years."

As for the recognition of the MBA certificate in Asia, Chopra says that it has come a long way in recent years. "Twenty years ago, the qualification was not that recognised, especially among HR human resources professionals. Today, however, it seems to me that in Asia recognition for the MBA has now got even further ahead than Europe. There's a lot of demand for the qualification in the region and this bodes very well for the future of business education here."