Global Economics

Asia Seeks Its Own Brand of Business Schools


To compete with Western B-schools and capitalize on Asia's growing business importance, Korean universities are partnering with schools around the region

Business major Lee Sun Kee is happy that he attended Korea University in Seoul. Lee, a senior, took four courses at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School last fall as an exchange student and feels that his university in Korea offers business programs just as good as those at Ivy League schools. "At Wharton, I met talented students and a couple of star professors whose lectures were impressive," says Lee. "But for other classes, I thought I could have learned better in Korea at one-tenth of Wharton's tuition."

Lee is one of a growing number of students appreciating a drastic makeover undertaken at business schools in Korea. Under a campaign to globalize curricula, faculty, and ways of thinking by students, top universities in the country have rebuilt their programs by modeling themselves largely on leading business schools in the U.S. "Globalization is our new mission," says Jang Hasung, dean of Korea University Business School. While Korean multinationals like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor have been expanding worldwide for years, Jang says his school long had focused too much on national issues and Korean perspectives.

Now these Korean universities want to join other Asian B-schools in Hong Kong, Singapore, and China to compete directly with European and U.S. B-schools. That's because Asia has emerged as home for a growing number of multinational corporations that generate many highly paid jobs. "With the center of gravity in the global economy shifting to Asia, it's just natural for students from the U.S. and Europe to seek Asian experiences and networking opportunities through business schools in Asia," says Suh Kil Soo, associate dean at Yonsei University Graduate School of Business, which is developing a program emphasizing case studies of the chaebol, Korea's family-controlled conglomerates.

Intra-Asian efforts are also aiming to maximize such incentives. Last year, Korea University forged a three-nation alliance with the National University of Singapore and China's Fudan University in Shanghai to open a joint 18-month program, which requires students to study for six months at each of the three schools. The program, called "S cube" to represent the three cities of Seoul, Shanghai, and Singapore, "will let students leverage on different strengths of the three nations and benefit from extensive Asian networking," says Jang at Korea University. There are now 31 students enrolled, with the first class graduating next February.

Making Korean B-Schools More Global

Officials at Korean business schools believe they can now aim higher thanks to major reforms they have promoted at home. At the vanguard of a movement to make Korean business schools more global is Korea University. More than half of all lectures at its business school are now in English, even in undergraduate business school programs. To make its curriculum compatible with leading B-schools in the U.S. and Europe, Korea University received accreditation from the U.S.-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in 2005 and the Brussels-based European Foundation for Management Development in 2007. The school has also pushed to team up with foreign partners. In recent years, Korea University has concluded exchange programs with some 100 business schools in the U.S., Europe, and Asia to accept some 300 foreign students, or nearly a fifth of all B-school students, annually. Apart from 10 full-time foreign professors, more than 20 visiting foreign professors run courses throughout the year.

Korea University isn't the only school in the country seeking international recognition. A total of six universities in Korea, including Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, have been accredited by AACSB and they all run MBA courses in English. "We are latecomers but Korea is moving rapidly to emerge as a major business education center in Asia," says Song Jae Yong, associate dean of Seoul National University Business School.

In fact, globalizing business schools is a national campaign, with the government setting aside more than $20 million to help finance such efforts by universities until 2012. To catch up with Asia's B-school leaders such as the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and the National University of Singapore, the government in 2006 began providing some $1 million annually for seven years to a handful of universities, including Korea University and Seoul National University. Under the program, universities taking the government subsidy must find corporate sponsors donating a similar amount in addition to their own budgets matching or exceeding the subsidy to be spent on developing business schools. Seoul National is using the government aid to hire 20 renowned professors from the world's top 20 business schools to run credit-earning two-week intensive programs between terms.

One strategy to attract students looking for international experience is offering dual degree programs together with overseas universities. In 2006, for example, Seoul National started a program with Duke University in the U.S. to give its MBA students a chance to get a second MBA degree from Duke if they complete a second year there after a one-year course in Seoul. Seoul National last year concluded similar arrangements with France's Essec and China's Peking University.

Moon is BusinessWeek's Seoul bureau chief.

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