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In 1935 the University of California, Los Angeles opened its first business school in the depths of the Great Depression, offering penmanship and typing classes alongside courses on accountancy and economics.

Seventy-five years later, the UCLA Anderson School of Management has grown to become one of the leading business schools in the US, attracting students from all over the world. The penmanship classes are long gone; instead, the school’s MBA and executive MBA programmes have become its biggest draws.

UCLA Anderson offers an interesting variation on traditional EMBA programmes through its tie-up with the National University of Singapore (NUS). The Global EMBA for Asia Pacific offers students a dual degree programme and six study sessions at different locations, lasting two weeks each.

There are two sessions each in Los Angeles and Singapore, one in Bangalore and one in Shanghai. “We’re really trying to take globalisation seriously,” says Chris Erickson, senior associate dean of global initiatives at UCLA Anderson. “We realised that in order to succeed in the global economy we needed access to embedded, cultural and institutional knowledge. We have that in the US but as an institution we’re not experts on Asia.”

This is where UCLA Anderson’s partner in Singapore comes in. “The model we chose to follow was to find a high-quality partner in Asia, which we found in NUS.”

One of the programme’s strengths is its flexibility: participating students who find themselves having to relocate to another country because of a job change can continue their studies with no interruption. The 18 courses that make up the programme are split between the two schools. “When you graduate from the programme you graduate with two degrees,” says Lucy Allard, director of global initiatives. “It’s the same MBA you would receive if you had gone through either school.”

The multiple locations that are part of the Asia Pacific EMBA distinguish the UCLA Anderson degree from competing programmes offered by rival business schools, adds Mr Erickson. “Many EMBA programmes are run by having people meet at the weekend in one location. We wanted to have a much more geographically diverse student body rather than being based in one place.”

The success of the Asia Pacific programme has led to plans to launch another international EMBA with a focus on Latin America. Run in partnership with the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Escuela de Negocios (UAI) in Chile, the programme is awaiting approval from the president of the University of California (UC) system but aims to build on the ties between Los Angeles and institutions in South America.

“Los Angeles is not just culturally ethnically and linguistically the most diverse city in the world,” says Judy Olian, dean of UCLA Anderson. “It also happens to be tilted towards Asia and Latin America… there are unique connections between Los Angeles and those economies.”

The Latin American programme is one of Anderson’s strategic priorities. “Business is global and you have to have a global student body, and a faculty that thinks globally and interacts globally,” she adds.

The addition of the Latin American and Asian EMBA has bolstered the range of courses available to UCLA Anderson students. The school’s original EMBA programme, which is run from its Los Angeles campus, continues to be oversubscribed, with many students applying from other countries. “About 50 per cent were born outside the US and almost all of them work in international business already,” says Carla Hayn, senior associate dean for the EMBA programme.

Another priority for the school is becoming financially self-sufficient. As part of the UC system, Anderson receives a portion of its funding from public money but with California in fiscal crisis and looking to cut a $19bn deficit, the school has decided to forgo the money it receives.

The UC system, which is considering UCLA Anderson’s proposal, has a funding gap of its own of $800m, which has forced colleges and schools within the network to drop classes and raise fees. UCLA Anderson argues that fees have risen sharply over the last decade anyway and has promised to replace the public money with funds from private donors.

About 18 per cent of UCLA Anderson’s $90m budget currently comes from state coffers, which includes the tuition students pay to the school. Ms Olian argues that opting out of public funding would give the school more flexibility – and make it more appealing to potential donors. “The UC system is arguably the greatest public university system in the world. But we’re not going to keep it that way with the old model.”

While negotiations on its financial future continue behind the scenes, the school is preparing for a year-long celebration to mark its 75th anniversary. A range of events are planned, including the launch of an online “impact map” which will show faculty and alumni where UCLA Anderson graduates are putting their skills to use – and how they are using the knowledge they gained from their studies.

Ms Olian says the close ties between the school and its alumni have helped current students. “We’re doing some interesting things to make sure our students have opportunities in the market place with our alumni.” This, she says, will give them a “competitive advantage relative to those other MBA’s out there”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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