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A Gateway To Asia: Why Graduates Are Getting Their MBA Degrees Down Under

Australia has emerged as a top MBA destination. Close links to Asia's emerging economies, relaxed visa laws and heightened MBA job prospects are sustaining a surge in demand.

Wed Jun 25 2014

It had been a turbulent week for Jose Antonio Talleri. The Peruvian consultant had spent three years climbing the ranks of PwC, the consultancy, but his country’s economy was far from dazzling.

Instead his dream lay thousands of miles away on distant shores. The culture, economy and job prospects were markedly different. But the business schools – and more importantly the potential career connections – were great.

His journey to a diversified Australian market will be one of optimism. The country has seen the second-biggest increase in business school applicants, second only to Canada.

“The possibility of finding a job in this country, in New Zealand or in Asia, is what attracted me to a career in Australia,” said Jose. “Wages in Australia are higher than in Peru – a job in Australia would enable me to recover my MBA investment,” he added.

Latin American countries – some emerging, others declining – can be a tasty prospect for those seeking careers. But their business school industry does not share the same lustre.

Peru is one of many nations seeing an exodus of management talent. MBA candidates are flocking to new shores for academic rigour.

Graduates are riding a wave of optimism in Australia. The country, buoyed by a resurgent economy, is one of a growing band of new nations which are scooping up MBA applicants in droves.

The Asia Pac area is seeing a surge in MBA job opportunity and from Down Under, the Aussie region is unlocking a gateway to the prosperous emerging markets of Asia.

The popularity of Australia is beginning to eclipse the established MBA providers. The reputable United States has fallen behind and has been stripped of its first-place spot by Canada, Australia and Germany, according to QS data. While the US and Europe have the biggest applicant pools, their increases in applications have been lacklustre.

Many business schools will be disappointed with application figures. Although some elite US schools report increases, for others the picture is gloomier. All eyes will be on September and October when MBA students officially enrol at schools, and data reveals the extent of the damage.

But the giants’ leads are narrowing. Australia, meanwhile, saw a 4.8% increase in applications last year, according to a QS survey.

Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) and Western Australia’s UWA Business School are capitalizing on this surge in demand. They are seeing a bonanza of new managers filing forms with their admissions departments.

“Our location connects you with large parts of Asia, and also puts you right in the heart of the resources industry, which is driving much of Australia’s economic growth,” said Michele Roberts, UWA Business School’s MBA program director.

More telling is that candidates are now basing their choices on the reputation of schools, the data suggest. Schools in Australia are enjoying a renewed spot on the world stage.

There was a pause before Professor Chris Styles, incoming dean of the Australian School of Business, dropped a headline phrase.

The charming and charismatic executive was ready to chat Australian business – but all talk turned to the country’s international reputation.

“There is huge potential to lift our profile in Europe,” he enthused. “Looking at Australia as a location, we need to lift our profile even further.”

He added: “It’s about lifting our international engagement, but also lifting our profile as well, in places that we are less well known. That’s something we need to continue to ramp up.”

The figures bear him out. At AGSM, part of the Australian School of Business, students from more than 20 different countries enrolled on their MBA this year. Some 70 new students from Peru, Singapore, Indonesia, Italy, Germany, Russia and one student from the Kingdom of Bhutan added diversity to Australia’s highest-ranking MBA cohort.

Professor Mark Stewart, the program's academic director, said: “In the last 12 months, the recruitment team and I have travelled to the four corners of the globe to find the best MBA candidates for our program.”

Students from the US, too, are shunning American schools. For Virginia Kane, a current MBA student at AGSM, career opportunities were paramount in her decision to fly to Sydney.

“Building new relationships will create opportunities for our cohort both domestically and globally… I'm confident that this program will open many doors,” she added.

Sanjit Kewalramani had no plans to study at one of India’s 3,000 business schools. The AGSM MBA student, who had worked for Phillips in his home nation, saw value in a different set of cultures.

“Exposure not only helps in your overall personal growth, but also helps honing interpersonal skills,” he said. “Interaction with individuals from various backgrounds helps [with] the development of a deeper understanding in their respective fields of expertise.”

Under Dean Phil Dolan, UWA Business School has also sought to attract more international students. The second-biggest crop of MBAs coming to Australia are from Latin America – nearly 24% of the total. Nearly 30% are from the Asia Pac area.

At UWA there are numerous tuition scholarships now available for internationals. They range from $5,000 to $45,000.

Paul Crompton, the school’s postgraduate programs director, said: “UWA Business School has a strong network of international students and graduates... There are also a number of visas which students can apply for, including a Temporary Graduate Visa or Temporary Work (Skilled) Visa.”

Matthew Barnett, a British entrepreneur, wasted no time in setting up his business out of AGSM. After graduating from the school's MBA, he had ambitions to break into the Sydney technology scene.

Along with Katrin Suess, he founded smartphone app Vimily. The pair invested $60,000 into the fledging start-up and raised a further $230,000 from angel investors. The app allows users to film and instantly share content online.

“Surprisingly, it [Australia] has better connections with Silicon Valley than the UK,” said Matthew.

But potentially the biggest prize is their proximity to Asia. Many MBA students are drawn to Australia by the ease with which they can secure work in Asia Pac’s emerging economies.

The Business in Asia Club at AGSM is booming. The club’s primary objective is to enable a platform for high quality discussions about the Asian economy, and the promises it holds.

They have already formed an alliance with the Asian Study Institute at the University of New South Wales, and are shortlisting industry experts as speakers. They also plan to hold an interactive event with Contact Singapore, a government body responsible for foreigners working in the country.

Matthew calls Australia the “western gateway” into Hong Kong: “It’s also a gateway into Southeast Asia.”

“That’s where the opportunity will be in the next 20 years,” he added.