Dean's Corner: Business Education in the Asian Era
Posted March 01, 2013 by Eric C. Chang
- Dean, Quoin Professor in Finance, Chair of Finance - Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Hong Kong
Riding on the region's large population and economic growth, many corporations and individuals turn to the China market for new business and career development opportunities. Business schools are no exception. Although the demand for higher business education in China and other parts of the Asia Pacific region is rising, competition among Asian universities and the Asian branch campuses of international business schools is intense. How can Asian business schools or Asian-based programs make themselves stand out and contribute to the grooming of the region's next generation of leaders?
As the world's second largest economy, and a major powerhouse in Asia, China needs visionary and innovative business leaders and senior executives to sustain its growth and rise to the global challenges. It also needs highly competent middle-level managers to implement business strategies, and support top management. Universities can help China to meet these needs by offering quality business education and executive training to unleash the full potential in the country's business professionals. Equipped with the latest knowledge and best practices, these leaders and managers can then create maximum value for their companies.
There are significant differences between the business and cultural environment in Asia and the U.S. Despite the evolving dynamics, Asia's business environment and infrastructure, such as legal, administration, social and political systems, differs from the "western model." Unlike the rule-and knowledge-based culture in the U.S., personal charisma and connections are very important in Asia, particularly China. The weight placed on personal networks is perhaps the same as those on academic qualifications, experience, and other workplace virtues. Loyalty, commitment, teamwork, and respect for hierarchies are also much valued in the Asian workplace. Although U.S. employers welcome candidness, critical thinking and creativity, these traits have yet to become equally important in Asia.
Due to the fundamental business environment and cultural differences, higher business degrees (for example, the MBA) can bring more immediate return, in terms of career advancement and professional development, to graduates in the U.S. than in China. Since the prospect of an MBA graduate correlates with a tuition fee, this may explain the fee gap between North American MBA programs and their Asian counterparts.
Globalization is gradually modifying the business environment in Asia, but cultural changes will take much longer time to realize. Therefore, individuals and businesses that want to shine in Asia and China must be able to understand, adapt to, and manage the Asian style. This is where business schools can contribute. Asian business schools can help put modern "western" management concepts into local, Asian contexts and develop curricula, research, and business cases that are relevant to the local and regional environment.
Apart from providing students physical access to the region's business hubs, Asian business schools also need to help them understand the local markets, systems, history, culture, and rules. Students need to be equipped with the relevant soft skills and connections to the right network in order for them to succeed in a competitive economy. The accomplishment of graduates should not be merely determined in terms of their salary advancement, which is often a popular gauge. Rather, the graduates' ability to instil global standards in their corporations and steer them toward further growth are the ultimate success measures. Similarly, I believe that the performance of Asian business schools, or any other business school, should be judged by their influence on and contributions to the region's long-term economic, social, and political development.
Hong Kong, as a leading international financial center connecting Asia Pacific with the rest of the world, has a unique geographical and social-political competitive edge in taking Asian business education to the next level. It is a highly cosmopolitan city without losing its Chinese roots. It has well-established business systems and global standards that are firmly implemented. Therefore, Hong Kong fills the niche in helping students and executives to tune global knowledge and practices in a way that answers the needs of Asian businesses. At the same time, Hong Kong facilitates in changing the behavior of Chinese executives by introducing, and reinforcing, corporate social responsibility and social leadership concepts, which are the humanity aspect of corporate performance.
As an ethnic Chinese who has spent 20 years studying and working in the U.S., I believe there is an urgent need for Asian business schools to step up and create a differentiating experience that enables students and executives to merge global knowledge into the local market. This will make higher education, including Asian MBA and EMBA programs, worthwhile investments for students, which will in turn lead to success for Asian business schools and sustainable growth for the region. In sum, a win-win-win situation.