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MIT Sloan School of Management knows a thing or two about start-ups. The US school’s entrepreneurship faculty is among its most distinguished and over the past 10 years, Sloanies — the internal word for graduates of the school — have started nearly 250 businesses. Now, though, it is embarking on an all together different enterprise: a new business school in Kuala Lumpur.
This month, MIT Sloan announced a collaboration with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the nation’s central bank, to establish the Asia School of Business (ASB). The school, which will run a traditional two-year MBA programme, is slated to open in September 2016 with an inaugural class of about 35 students.
BNM Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz is a driving force behind the alliance. “[Our goal] is to start a business school that produces the kind of talent that will go out and be part of the advancement of the emerging world,” she says.
Both parties have experience in this arena. BNM has made several large investments in education over the past 10 years, starting a school for Islamic finance, for instance. And for the past two decades, MIT Sloan has partnered universities around the globe to help less-known business schools expand curricula, implement programmes, and develop their academic base and research profile.
Creating a business school from scratch, however, is a far more ambitious — and daunting — task. According to David Schmittlein, who has been dean of MIT Sloan for eight years, it takes money, institutional will and engagement from the wider region.
“It also takes having the right people and having it be the right time for the region — it’s a tall order,” he says.
Dr Zeti admits the central bank is an “unusual partner” for MIT Sloan, but says the educational process of MIT, especially its emphasis on action learning, “is very much what we aspire to for our school”. She herself is a product of US business education: she earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and took courses at Wharton. “[Business school] taught me the theoretical foundations of how the system works,” she says.
At a time of rapid economic growth in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), professional management skills are badly needed, she says. Asean, which is comprised of 10 countries with a combined gross domestic product of $2.4bn, has an increasing number of global companies but the vast majority are small or medium-sized family-owned businesses.
The region also has few top-notch universities compared with other parts of the world. For ASB, this could be a competitive advantage. But it also presents a challenge: recruiting academics.
“High-quality faculty is a scarce resource,” says Charles Fine, a professor at MIT Sloan who is the founding dean of the new school. In the short term, MIT Sloan professors will teach at ASB but over time the school will recruit and develop its own faculty.
While global affiliations like this one are today a common feature of management education, MIT Sloan is considered a pioneer in staking out relationships with schools in emerging countries. Nearly 20 years ago, MIT Sloan launched a partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai.
Since then, the school has partnered schools in India, Turkey, Portugal and Brazil among others. The Sloan school was also a significant player in the “Cambridge-MIT Institute”, set up between the University of Cambridge and MIT in 1999.
The collaboration with China came at a propitious time. According to Xiongwen Lu, dean of the School of Management at Fudan University, it was the beginning of China’s economic boom. “Management education in China had just taken off and there was an urgent need for introducing advanced theory and methodology from western countries,” he says.
These relationships last three to five years, at which point both schools evaluate whether the affiliation will continue. While most relationships endure, others have quietly ended. The school’s partnership with Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, lasted eight years, and that with the Skolkovo MBA programme in Russia ran for three.
For the partner school the advantages of an alliance are clear cut: joining forces with MIT Sloan, a top brand in business education, delivers an automatic boost to its reputation.
“We believe that the best way to learn is to learn from the best,” says Yingyi Qian, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua. “MIT Sloan is among the best in the world.”
Other partner schools say they measure the relationship’s success by the calibre of students and faculty they attract, where students find jobs after graduation, the impact of the research produced and through school rankings.
Francisco Veloso, dean of Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics, which together with the Nova School of Business and Economics runs the one-year Lisbon MBA with MIT Sloan, says his programme’s marked improvement in rankings, even in spite of market difficulties, offers a “visible and clear measure” of its success.
For MIT Sloan, the benefits of partnering another school are more nuanced. David Capodilupo, the executive director of the office of international programmes, says the alliances boost its alumni relationships by providing local opportunities for far-flung graduates to reconnect with the school.
There is also a financial component, whereby the partner school typically makes a gift to MIT Sloan. But perhaps the most tangible benefit to MIT Sloan boils down to its ability to extend its influence and reach.
Establishing a presence in different parts of the world helps the school to cultivate business relationships and creates potential for new strands of academic research. Because the school does not seek out these relationships, says Mr Capodilupo, there must be “significant interest from faculty” to do research on a particular place.
The alliances also provide inroads for the school’s international “action labs” — experiential courses that involve students working on a project for an organisation. “We get exposure to companies in parts of the world that we may not have ordinarily had access to,” says Mr Capodilupo.
MIT Sloan also has the opportunity to shape the future of business education in emerging economies, according to Prof Schmittlein.
“I am being serious and not cynical in the least when I say that our purpose is to help improve management education in the world,” he says. “Sitting here in Cambridge there are limits to the impact of our ideas if we don’t engage well and engage broadly.”