For many years now a master's degree in business administration has been the qualification of choice for those seeking a job in the top echelons of management. And, generally speaking, MBA programs run by top business schools in the US, Canada and Europe have been the preferred choice of students.
However, changes in the global economic dynamics has given Asian B-schools a sudden impetus - students who would traditionally go to Ivy League business schools are now looking to ones in Asia for their business education. At the same time, Asia-based business schools, though relatively young compared with their Western peers, are wasting no time to establish their credentials.
"Today's young people know where the future is and want some ties with it," said David Wilson, president and CEO of Graduate Management Admission Council.
GMAC owns the GMAT exam, a worldwide standardized test designed for graduate business and management programs.
According to GMAC's survey on Job Trends & Demand for Business Schools in China & Hong Kong, released last month, the number of students in the West heading to this part of the world to complete their business education is quickly rising.
Looking at study destinations, a total of 63,199 GMAT score reports from prospective students across the globe went to schools in the Asia-Pacific region this year, an increase of 51 percent compared with the same period in 2008.
Schools in Hong Kong received 13,017, or 21 percent, of scores sent to the region, while those in the mainland received 3,498, or 6 percent, slightly fewer than Australia which received 4,066 scores.
Currently, foreign students account for 39 percent of the applicant pool for Chinese programs, compared with 61 percent of domestic applications.
Wilson sees this trend as a more recent phenomena and one that should be examined in the context of time.
In the short term, with the job market in Asia booming, especially in China, there is strong demand for MBA graduates who can easily secure jobs after completing the program.
A GMAC survey showed that employer demand for new MBA graduates during this year was encouraging as 86 percent of Chinese companies polled plan to hire. This exceeds both the global average (79 percent) and the Asia- Pacific regional average (80 percent).
However, Wilson believes that today's young people, who are just starting their career, are thinking rather long-term in beefing up their portfolio of experiences.
"In 20 years' time, Asia will be the engine of growth. Their thinking is like: 'If I don't understand the Chinese market, I will be at a real disadvantage,'" Wilson said, adding that the future is for people who spend some time elsewhere and are culturally comfortable when assigned a business task there.
Wilson, who has been heading GMAC since 1995, has witnessed the development of business education in Asia over the years and is very impressed by how the schools have built up their resources, curriculum, faculties and case pool.
In this year's Executive Master of Business Administration global rankings by the Financial Times, Hong Kong and mainland business schools were more well placed than in previous years.
For instance, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology tops the list with Beijing-based Tsinghua- Insead EMBA ranked No 4, Shanghai- based China Europe International Business School No 7 and Guangzhou- based Sun Yat-sen Business School No 11.
"You would never see this 10 years ago. They are building extremely good schools," Wilson said.
Sparking the growth has been a flurry of reputable faculties who once taught in Western business schools, Wilson said.
At the same time, Chinese business schools are building up their own stock of cases, which is very important in the development of quality business education.
Last year, in a meeting with the working group of the China National MBA Education Supervisory Committee, an organization overseen by the Ministry of Education and the State Council's Academic Degrees Committee, Wilson was told that there were already 600 Chinese cases in their library, and the committee was aiming at 1,000 by the end of this month.
Wilson pointed out that the build- up of domestic cases is much more relevant, since existing cases are mostly about issues and challenges faced by a Western company. The cases in a Western context cannot be completely transferred to this culture, where things such as regulation, reporting standards and supply chain are different. Also, new cases help to address new challenges in a much more complex global context, such as environmental issues, he said.
At the policy level, Wilson sees governments in Asia are strategically encouraging students to study and stay on in their country.
This is so unlike the United States, where its immigration policy is discouraging young people to remain.
"Here the government is very thoughtful," Wilson said.