MBA Programs in Southeast Asia: Tapping Into the Tiger Cubs

A number of accredited MBA programs are meeting specific needs in this fast-growing region

Often referred to as the “Tiger Cub” economies, the southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia have all emerged from industrialization and have been growing briskly, following in the footsteps of the “Rising Tigers” – Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

BangkokAlongside the growth and development, an increasing number of internationally-accredited business schools are now offering high-quality MBA programs in the region. For some international students looking to tap into southeast Asia's growth, doing an MBA program there can help them better understand the region's business and cultural elements, which may be different from those elsewhere. “With the economic growth rates in Asia being so high for the last little while, there's a genuine interest in what's happening here,” says Dean Outerson, the head of marketing and communications at the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, in Bangkok, Thailand.

“And if you want to do business in southeast Asia, then you should study business in southeast Asia," Outerson says.

Outerson notes that while many Sasin MBA students come from Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and the rest of the wider region, some international students come from as far as Europe and North America.

These students have multifaceted goals. “For a lot of our students there's the challenge of doing an MBA in another country, in another business world,” Outerson says, “but I think some people are also looking at the opportunities that are here.”

International students who attend Putra Business School in Malaysia tend to come from the Middle East or African countries, according to Ahmed Razman, Putra's MBA program director. 

Manila Bay, the Philippines

Indeed, some students from the Middle East might find that Malaysia, with its high growth rates and relative stability, is a very attractive place to go to business school with the intention of finding a job in the country afterwards. 

Other internationally-accredited MBA programs in southeast Asia include the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in the Philippines, the University of Malaya Graduate School of Business in Malaysia, and the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Thailand.

And while not officially a Tiger Cub economy, Singapore, with its established business schools and international business environment, is also a destination for students considering an MBA in the region. Internationally-accredited business schools in Singapore offering full-time MBA programs include Nanyang Business School (NTU,)  National University of Singapore (NUS,) Singapore Management University (SMU,) and INSEAD. 

Closer to home

Often, MBA programs in southeast Asia provide a way for students in the region to get a business education without going halfway across the world. For instance, students in Nottingham University Business School's MBA program in Malaysia study the same content as those at the school's UK's campus, with a mix of local flavor in the case studies and other course content.

“International students come from China, the Middle East, and other parts of southeast Asia,” says Chee Kwong Lau, the MBA director of Nottingham's Malaysia campus, who notes that these students may have previously considered MBA programs further afield.

And for many students from southeast Asia, the decision to do an MBA program there might be based on the bottom line. 

“Of course, cost plays a key role as well, because the cost of studying in Malaysia is relatively cheap, compared to the traditional markets like the UK, the US, and Australia,” Lau says.

Meeting local demands

 For many students, these MBA programs offer insights to meet specific demands in the region's business environment. For instance, in Malaysia there is a currently a shortage of “company secretaries” – which are essentially liaisons between companies and the government, and which are required by law. To meet this need, Putra Business School offers an MBA specialization in corporate governance, which, when coupled with an undergraduate degree in finance and a special certification, can allow a graduate to become a company secretary. 

Likewise, Nottingham offers a concentration in corporate social responsibility, because this topic has become more important in Malaysia since the country introduced a CSR reporting framework into its stock exchange. Similarly, Sasin recently introduced a concentration in sustainability, which Dean Outerson says is becoming “quite popular.”

But for Western students, the business school experience can help them understand that “the things that they might have done in the business world back home might not work here, and so they have to adjust to how things are done here,” says  Outerson.

For instance, they might find that the business environment tends to be more collaborative rather than competitive in Thailand, reflecting collectivist elements of the culture – aspects which can come through in the business school experience.

And even for students who do not want to stay in Asia after graduation, doing an MBA there can still be beneficial. According to Outerson, “if they get a position in a company back home in Europe that does a lot of business in Asia, then their experience working and studying in Asia would” give them an advantage.

Image credits:

Kuala Lumpur: Stuck in Customs / Creative Commons

Manila Bay:  Zerwell / Creative Commons

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