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The Singapore government’s determination to turn the island state into a regional business school hub by attracting overseas suppliers has not in the least fazed the country’s most prominent locals. The business school at the National University of Singapore, the country’s oldest, is thriving.

In June 2005 the school appointed Chris Earley, formerly professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, as dean. He believes it has a winning proposition that is different from competitors in the region, notably the Hong Kong schools, which are drawn into the China market. The focus for NUS is much broader he says. “If your focus is Asia and the world, come here.”

The natural catchment area, he says, includes India and China, each with populations of more than 1bn, and countries such as Indonesia with a population of more than 200m.

Big plans are afoot for the AACSB-accredited school which is now planning its move to high-tech facilities to be built on the vast university campus, home to more than 28,000 students. There the business school will house its undergraduate and specialised masters degrees, and its executive education short-course portfolio as well as its suite of MBA and EMBA degrees.

This includes the full-time MBA, the international MBA run jointly with Peking University, and three executive MBA degrees. These are the Apex (Asian-Pacific executive) MBA taught in English; the Apex MBA taught in Chinese; and the EMBA that NUS offers jointly with the Anderson school at the University of California at Los Angeles. The Apex MBA programmes are “gypsy programmes” says Prem Shamdasani, academic director. The 17-month Apex-E programme (the English version), ranked 29 in the world in the FT 2006 EMBA rankings, comprises six two-week “segments” in Singapore, India, Indonesia, Thailand and China. But this is no holiday trip: each of the segments include 120 hours of participation.

Apex-C (taught in Chinese), is aimed at Mandarin-speaking executives and the school says this was the first EMBA to be taught in Chinese. While the Apex programmes have been running for a decade, NUS’s most recent programme is a joint degree programme with the Anderson school at UCLA in California. “It is very like Apex except that it is straddling the US and Asia,” says Jochen Wirtz, academic co-director of the programme. “It was jointly developed by the two schools and we picked the best from the two [existing] programmes. The programme is taught 50-50 by UCLA and NUS faculty.”

The target groups for the programme are “road warriors” he says. As part of the programme, participants have to travel to Shanghai and Bangalore as well as Los Angeles and Singapore.

While participants on the Apex degrees are valued for their managerial experience as much as their academic qualifications – on the Apex-E programme participants have an average of 16 years work experience and on the sister Apex-C programme an average 17 years – academic credentials are critical to the joint degree programme. In particular UCLA insists on participants having had four years of academic study, in line with the US undergraduate degree model. In Singapore, as in many part of Asia, notably Hong Kong, the degree system is based on the UK three-year British model, making recruitment from the region tough. (Universities in Hong Kong are moving to a four-year undergraduate degree in 2012 to bring them in line with the Chinese system.)

Today 37 per cent of the 40 participants on the UCLA-NUS programme are from the Americas, 21 per cent from Singapore and a further 21 per cent from the rest of Asia. But this will change, says Prof Wirtz. “Now 20 per cent of participants are from Singapore but we aim to get that down to 15 per cent. The ideal mix is 40 per cent from the Americas, 40 per cent from Asia and 20 per cent from Europe.”

It also plans an MBA to build on its Asia-Pacific credentials. It hopes to launch next year a full-time Asian MBA taught in English and run with Fudan University in Shanghai and Korea University.

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