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When the Singapore government decides to act, things happen. That is particularly true of its policy to develop Singapore as one of Asia’s educational hubs.

It has attracted the best from Europe and the US – Insead, the University of Chicago and the Parisian school Essec – while building its own business school, Singapore Management University, from scratch.

Has the substantial investment paid off? Yes, says Anil Gaba, Insead’s dean of faculty, who is resident on Insead’s expanding Singapore campus. Of the 900 MBA students who graduate from the school’s two campuses in France and Singapore each year, 24 per cent find their first job in Asia.

While Insead’s full-time MBA has proved particularly attractive in Asia – Prof Gaba believes the number of MBAs studying on the Asia campus could increase to 600 – it failed to attract sufficient executive MBA students. It decided to launch a single EMBA that spans Insead’s campuses, in Singapore and France. It will also launch a Beijing-based programme with Tsinghua university. Frank Brown, Insead dean, believes the EMBA is a valuable programme. “There should have been 100 students on the EMBA by now and by that measure it hasn’t succeeded. But by quality of programme and satisfaction of participants it has been a success. It’s a big commitment: 12 weeks [residential] in 18 months and 15 weeks of working remotely.”

Other schools have been more successful in Singapore’s growing EMBA market. The University of Chicago has gone from strength to strength in marketing its EMBA programme, which is housed in a 125-year old merchant’s villa that took two years to renovate and convert, and has been designated a national heritage building.

Beth Bader, managing director of Chicago’s Asia campus, says when Chicago first set up in Singapore – it has just admitted its seventh class – the perception of an EMBA was of a low-quality programme.

“At this point my sense is that the market is expanding and awareness of our programme is expanding. It’s easier to recruit.” This despite the US$96,000 price tag. The shift has come, she says, in the attitude of employers. There is an enormous demand for people with an EMBA with a working knowledge of Chinese business and an international standard MBA.

This year 50 per cent of students on the Chicago EMBA will be resident in Singapore, though they are not necessarily Singapore nationals. The remaining 50 per cent fly in from the region.

As in the Hong Kong and Chinese markets, the EMBA, rather than the full-time MBA, is the degree of choice in Singapore and, like Hong Kong the EMBA degrees on offer are clearly delineated. For example, Nanyang Technological University, located in the south-western part of Singapore, has strong ties with US universities – it has a jointly-developed advanced management with Berkeley in California and runs a Nanyang Fellows programme modelled on the MIT Sloan Fellows programme. Participants spend six weeks at MIT.

But when it comes to its EMBA, it has turned to Shanghai Jiao Tong University as is partner. The jointly-developed EMBA is taught in Mandarin in Beijing and Shanghai. The programme attracts both private sector and high-level government officials, says Gillian Yeo Hian Heng, executive vice-dean and dean of the degree programmes.

At the National University of Singapore, the only home-grown business school to be ranked in the FT EMBA 2006 rankings – it is ranked number 29 – all markets are catered for. It offers an EMBA in English, a second in Mandarin and a third that is a joint degree with the Anderson school at the University of California at Los Angeles.

And they could all soon be joined by the new kid on the block. Singapore Management University was inaugurated in 2000 in the heart of the city to run a high-level undergraduate degree. The programme has been extraordinarily successful, admitting 650 students a year on the four-year programme, with 30 nationalities represented in the student body.

Now newly-appointed dean Eng Fong Pang, who was High Commissioner for Singapore in London until this year, believes it is time to move into the graduate degree market.

Eventually he expects SMU to have both a full-time and an executive MBA offered either as a SMU degree or as a joint degree with a partner school. However: “A respected partner is not very easy to find at this time,” he says.

The first will be the EMBA, which Prof Pang hopes SMU will be able to launch as early as 2007.

If the success of the undergraduate degree is anything to go by, other business schools will be watching SMU carefully.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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