Business Schools Try New Asia Strategies

Haas, Manchester, and Iowa are among the B-schools striving to build Asia ties through EMBA and alternative degree programs

Like many professors at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, Dean Rich Lyons takes pride in the university's close ties with Asia. More than 40% of Berkeley's undergraduate students are Asian or Asian American, and the university's schools have strong research ties across the Pacific. Berkeley, says Lyons, "is the most Asia-leaning of all Western universities. You can't but walk around the campus and see how extraordinarily Asian the place is."

The post-Lehman credit crunch, though, has hurt some of the business school's Asian connections. The number of international students at Haas dropped from 39% two years ago to 33% now, says Lyons. That's because students from outside the U.S. have had trouble getting loans. In the past, overseas students without a local co-signer could get loans from Citibank (C) or Sallie Mae (SLM), but in the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy, "the no co-signer market collapsed," Lyons says. As a result, "we had a heckuva time making sure these international students had financing." While Haas ended up making loans itself, the school lost students as a result of the sudden credit crisis.

Now Haas is looking to make up some of its lost ground. Rivals such as Northwestern's Kellogg, University of Southern California's Marshall, and UCLA's Anderson have executive MBA programs with schools in Asia, providing opportunities for the American schools to build ties with business leaders in the region. Berkeley has long resisted setting up such partnerships, on the theory that a vital part of a Berkeley education was the experience of living and studying in the Bay Area. Lyons says Haas isn't about to change now. Among the schools offering EMBAs, "it's getting a little me-too, a little bit commoditized."

So Lyons is considering alternatives. Last month he traveled to Hong Kong and other parts of the region, in part to investigate interest in a program that would offer some classes in Asia and some in California. "It would be nice to offer a degree program in the region that is on-brand, that's different and very Berkeley," he says. "It would be in California but we would need to deliver chunks of it here." Lyons hopes to have a program launched before his term as dean expires four years from now.

Manchester B-School's DBA Program

Meanwhile, other schools are pushing ahead with new ideas of their own. The Manchester Business School, one of the top B-schools in Britain, began offering a Doctor of Business Administration program five years ago. Not to be confused with a business PhD (a degree that usually leads to a teaching position at a B-school), a DBA is designed for senior executives looking to investigate a particular issue that pertains to their industry and expertise. "There are similarities to the PhD, in that it is just as rigorous and should produce a publishable work," says Christopher J. Easingwood, director of the DBA program at Manchester Business School. "But it has to have a strong relevant management application." The average age of students enrolling in the Manchester DBA is 40, a good 10 to 15 years older than the typical MBA student.

Manchester began its DBA program to cater to global executives looking to integrate research into their organizations while continuing their jobs. The program consists of four one-week intensive modules at Manchester's campus in England spread out over 18 months. Core courses include statistics, research methods, and epistemology—the theory of research and learning. There is also a course on how to do a literature review for the thesis. The cost of the entire program, which takes between three to five years to complete, is about $51,000.

The program has proved popular among Asian executives, who make up about 25% of this year's entering class. Danai Pathomvanich is a director at Gaatoo, a company that hosts online customer communities for manufacturers. The 34-year-old Thai chose the program so he could develop a more rigorous approach to his business. His company is headquartered in the U.S., has its sales office in Bangkok, and does its software development in Dalian, China. "The program is very good for people who have a specific goal in mind or want to research deeper into a particular subject area," says Danai, whose company aims to help automakers and electronics manufacturers better exploit social networking in their customer relationship management. "For me it's tremendously more beneficial than a traditional MBA."

Iowa Trims Its China EMBA Offerings

Like many other schools, Manchester is also sticking with the tried-and-true way of reaching out to Asian students: the executive MBA. The school has a center in Hong Kong for executive training, launched 17 years ago, and a center in Singapore initiated in 1999 that now has almost 500 students. To tap growing demand in China, last year Manchester opened a center in Shanghai.

Making an executive MBA program work in China isn't easy. The University of Iowa, which has offered an EMBA program in Hong Kong since 2001, last year suspended a similar program in Beijing, says Tony Hui, program director of the Hong Kong office. Iowa had teamed up with the Chinese Agricultural University, with the goal of building a program aimed at "developing world-class Chinese business leaders in the food and agribusiness sectors," according to the Iowa Web site's description of the program.

Although the description still exists, Hui says the program is no more. After two years, problems with Chinese regulators led Iowa to shut the program. "They don't want too many foreign programs competing with local programs," says Hui. So for now, Iowa is limiting its Asian program to Hong Kong, where Hui says it's easier for foreign business schools to operate, because the government encourages more schools to offer degree programs. Iowa enrolls 30 to 40 students a year.

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