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For Sue Lin Heng, there was one criterion that really stood out when she was looking for an executive MBA programme, the qualification for working managers. It was its location.
A native of Singapore, Ms Heng, 31, had already lived on the west coast of the US and had a job based in Singapore with Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, the hotels consultancy group. But she had not worked either on the east coast of the US or in Europe. Consequently, it was this combination that she found appealing in the EMBA Global degree that is offered by Columbia Business School in New York and London Business School.
“The biggest thing was how it [the EMBA Global] was marketed, as a global degree,” she explains.
“There is such a good group of people [on the programme] to connect with.” Because graduates from the programme receive two degrees – one from Columbia, the other from LBS – the “whole networking bit is huge”, says Ms Heng.
She is typical of a growing number of managers who did not study for an MBA when they were in their 20s, but have now decided that the qualification is for them. What they can choose from are some of the most innovative programmes available at business schools, most notably because they teach global business by being one themselves, enabling students to study in different locations and campuses.
Two of the first schools to realise the advantage of this kind of programme were Columbia and LBS. They launched the EMBA Global programme in 2001 and today the two schools are going a step further and bringing a third school, Hong Kong University Business School, into the fold.
EMBA Global Asia, which will open its doors to its first students next May, is expected to attract students from Asia but will give them access to three of the world’s leading three financial centres.
The block modules will be taught jointly by the three faculties, giving participants insights from all three continents, and taught on all three continents.
As well as studying in Hong Kong, New York and London, participants on EMBA Global Asia will also take one of their core modules in central Shanghai, where HKUBS is opening its own teaching facility in the old Shanghai post office in September. To date HKUBS has taught its programmes on the campus of Fudan University in the city.
Although the core of the new programme is very similar to the two-centre EMBA Global, the electives taught in Hong Kong will have a local flavour. All students studying in London, New York and Hong Kong will be able to take electives – optional courses in whichever location they choose.
Ethan Hanabury, associate dean at Columbia, says that the number of students on the school’s New York programme, plus those on EMBA Global, EMBA Global Asia and the Columbia/Berkeley EMBA, adds up to about 700 who take the Columbia electives. “I think this means we have an unparalleled set of electives to offer,” he says.
For Columbia and LBS, the motivation behind the programme was similar. “What I was trying to do was to think of a way of expanding our footprint in Asia,” says Columbia dean, Glen Hubbard.
Lyn Hoffman, associate dean for executive MBA programmes at LBS, says promoting the LBS brand in China was critical. “One of our goals – the big end game – was having a presence in China …My expectation is that it [brand awareness] will affect all our programmes.”
Teaming up with a Hong Kong school, rather than one in mainland China, which has been problematic for some UK and US schools will have obvious benefits for Columbia and LBS, says Gary Biddle, dean at HKUBS.
“The China landscape is complex and you have to have expertise in how to operate there,” Prof Biddle says. “We know the landscape as well as anyone – we’ve been operating programmes up there for 10 years.”
For HKUBS, which has a strong brand image in China and Hong Kong, the link with two of the world’s leading business schools will propel the fledgling school into a front-row seat in the business school world. It will also give the school a top-notch product to help it compete against rival Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, whose joint EMBA degree programme with the Kellogg School at Northwestern University was ranked number one in the world by the Financial Times in 2007.
LBS and Columbia are not the only business schools to recognise the benefit of cross-continental alliances. Last week, the first students on the Esade and Georgetown EMBA began their programme in Washington DC. The US-Spanish alliance includes Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service as well as the McDonough School of Business, giving the programme a socio-political flavour.
The seeds of the programme were sown several years ago when the Georgetown dean was visiting Esade, says Paul Almeida, co-director of the programme and associate professor of strategy and international business at McDonough. The two schools began to question the value of what was taught on EMBA programmes. “We [business schools] assumed that MBA programmes that were ideal for 25 year olds were also ideal for 45 year olds,” he says. “But [at 45] you are not training people to get a job in an investment bank.”
As for Ms Heng, who now lives in London, she says that although she would not have selected the EMBA Global Asia programme herself, she will benefit from the increased networking opportunities that it will bring. “I think it is fantastic as it reaches out to people in Asia.”
China lessons for business schools
Just over a decade ago, leading US and European business schools identified the need to establish a foothold in China by working jointly with Chinese universities.
Many opted for joint EMBA programmes, but it has not all been plain sailing.
Cass Business School at City University in London, for example, has suspended its EMBA, which it ran in Shanghai, after enrolling just two classes. The school is unable to get money out of China, says Henrietta Royle, chief operating officer. “What the law says is that you must not make a profit out of education.”
This has not put the school off working in the country. “China is probably Cass’s most important market,” says Ms Royle.Cass hopes to resolve the finance issue soon and restart the programme.
The story is eerily similar at the Smith school at the University of Maryland, which has shelved its EMBA in Beijing this year, though it plans to reintroduce the programme in future and is continuing to run its programme in Shanghai.
In contrast, Insead’s joint EMBA with Tsinghua University is thriving, according to Edward Buckingham, associate director of the EMBA at Insead. With 50 per cent of the classes taught on Tsinghua’s Beijing campus and 50 per cent at Insead in Singapore, the programme has attracted 25 per cent of its students from China.
Insead has bypassed the fees issue by being paid outside China in dollars. Mr Buckingham says that, like the corporates before them, business schools wanting to operate in China are often learning the hard way that they need to know the market.
For Ceibs in Shanghai, the doyen of western-style management education in China, the market seems to be growing, with 630 students on the Ceibs EMBA programme this year and 780 next.