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MBA Jobs: Can Asia Give Your Career A Competitive Advantage?

International MBAs are studying in Asia in greater numbers - and employers are hiring more foreign graduates. Many of the best b-schools are in the region - but how will Asia shape your career?

Wed Nov 27 2013

If there is one concrete conclusion that we can take from China's Third Plenum; it's that the economies of Asia remain significant economic powers.

It was not that long ago that the Western world observed China as an unstoppable economic rocket. For decades, its economy expanded 10 per cent annually. The Chinese economy was at the forefront of many Asian states that navigated there way through a maze of global instability. 

While the US contracted, China still prospered. When the UK dragged itself out of the depths of double-dip recession, a meager 0.7 per cent growth was considered a major breakthrough, while in China, 7.7 per cent growth, a level that British MBAs haven't enjoyed in many a year, was considered a lackluster quarter. 

While MBAs continue to study in countries with strong educational business reputations, it would be wrong to assume that the main focus on many a b-school grad wasn't to secure a career. 

Sure, many use MBA programs to transition between functions. But careers are paramount - and why wouldn't they be? Students spend up to $60,000 in tuition for one-year of study alone on top MBA programs. And after developing core skills, will seek a return on their investment. 

While there is a growing trend in MBAs shunning traditional career paths for entrepreneurial ventures, figures show that the traditional career functions still dominate the MBA Jobs world. Finance, consulting and services still top the charts. 

At Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance, considered one of the best finance-related MBA programs money can buy, students flock from all regions of China, and indeed the world, to take up a place. SAIF is one of the world's highest-rated schools in the MBA Rankings and has a strong focus on finance. 

Shanghai, the b-schools' base, is regarded as the economic hub of China and MBA students from SAIF enjoy the benefits of a plethora of Fortune 500 companies that offer summer internships. Among the banking giants of Guotai Junan Securities Assets Management and Bosera Funds, some of the highest-ranking businesses in China include tech giants Microsoft and Apple Computer Trading.

Ying Hu, a SAIF student who works at Industrial Bank Co, sums up the opportunities available in Asia for Shanghai-based MBAs: "Shanghai is the financial capital of China," she said. "We have the most advanced financial concepts, and many financial institutions are located in Shanghai, so 'Saifers' have more opportunities than other cities."

When a free-trade zone was launched in the city in September, commentators were quick to praise the job opportunities that may come about as China's economy continues to boom. Prof. Zhu Ning, Deputy Director of SAIF, praised the reforms as an innovation and one that will surely benefit MBAs that seek to launch a career in the city after graduation. 

"This will be one of the most or the most important innovations in Chinese reform," he said. "There will be a relaxation of regulation and also a reduction of the impact of government policies, which will be another big step towards a more oriented reform. I think that is also one way to jump start Shanghai economic growth again."

Business schools across Asia are seeking more international students and one way to ensure a bright start in the region is to take advantage of the many MBA Scholarships available to foreign students. Internationals at SAIF can apply to claim RMB 288, 000, or just under $50,000 - which is considerably more than full-time students from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. 

Global MBA Rankings show that five b-schools in China, including China Europe International Business School, are ranked in the top-100 worldwide. Nanyang Business School in Singapore is ranked in the top-50 and SAIF is regarded as one of the best finance programs on the planet. 

Four of Asia’s top business schools have partnered with BusinessBecause to host an event in London for potential applicants next week, December 3. ISB, HKUST Nanyang and CEIBS will be promoting their MBA programs.

The latter offers six scholarships for first-year MBAs, with additional scholarships for those based in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East & Central Asian region. At Nanyang, prospective full-time MBAs from APEC member countries, including the US and Australia, can apply for the international-specific APEC Scholarship. There is also a scholarship for students from ASEAN countries that excludes those in Singapore.

The opportunity to finance your studies in Asia goes on. But what is clear is that the burden of debt for international students can be significantly reduced. This, coupled with cheaper living costs than in some Western cities, will make your transition smoother.

Even after graduation, MBAs use studying in Asia as a gateway to international careers. Of CEIB's MBA cohort of 2010, 50 per cent stayed in China to look for work after graduation. The number of foreign citizens who sent GMAT scores to Chinese universities has increased 126 per cent over four years.

There is a clear case for studying in China and the rest of Asia - but employers want MBAs to stay, too. In 2011, QS Top MBA reported a 19 per cent increase in employer demand for MBA graduates in China. 

Kevin Mi, SAIF’s Head of the Master of Finance Program, told BusinessBecause: "The career service at SAIF is one of the best ones in China," he said. "The work experience in China will benefit you for your whole career. It might be a challenge adapting to local culture - but it’s very interesting experience."

But the culture is one of the main attractions to international careers. MBA programs across the world are increasingly diverse and dominated by a majority of international students. In Europe, ESADE Business School last year had 50 per cent of their MBA students enter from emerging market economies. At London Business School, 90 per cent of their MBA cohort was last year international. At Nanyang, that figure stands at 83 per cent.

Asian MBA classes are becoming increasingly international and that exposure is consistently cited as a program highlightby b-school students. 

Studying and working in Asia will provide you with the language skills that will prove beneficial where ever you end up working. As any graduate will tell you, cultural bilingually is an appealing quality for employers. A network of contacts in Asia will also prove beneficial for the modern, international MBA. 

Ananth Sundarrajan, an international CEIBS MBA student, confirms that view: "An opportunity to observe and learn from not only my Chinese peers but also peers from 21 other countries was a good enough reason for me to pack my bags and fly to Shanghai."

While more international students are thought to have applied to Asian business schools, employer demand in the region for foreign MBA graduates has also risen. There may be no better time to launch a career in Asia and the region's top business schools will make your transition seemingly easy.

As Emily Palmer, an MBA student who moved from the UK to study at Nanyang in Singapore, put it: "Studying an MBA in Singapore will give me exposure. I wanted to meet different people, which I think is the best thing I’m getting out of the Nanyang MBA. I like Singapore and you never know, if I get a job here, I might stay."

Deciding where to study is an important decision. But deciding where to begin a career is even more so. More often than not, the countries you study in become the countries you stay in. But opportunities in Asia can give your career a competetive advantage.

If you are in London, join BusinessBecause next week to find out how Asia will shape your career - and why studying an MBA will give you the platform to launch. Sign up here.