Why Asia Pacific is a Rising Force in Online MBAs

Online MBAs are a way to take learning across borders and attract international students across the region

The Asia Pacific region has been a rising force in business education in all but one market segment: Online MBAs. While Europe and North America have increasingly embraced Online MBAs, countries such as China and Australia have been much slower to enter the online market. That is starting to change, though, thanks to shifts in working practices and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The clearest signal yet of that shift is the launch by HKUST Business School of its “Digital MBA for Global Leaders program” for working professionals last year. The program manager Mandy Lee says there are two key reasons why professionals in Hong Kong have enrolled in the program.

“The program’s launch was particularly timely and relevant, given the rise of hybrid work and increased demand for the flexibility to customize the MBA experience,” she says.

Another important factor was the pandemic. “It has accelerated the change in perspective of pursuing MBA education online as top universities begin to realize the importance of online education and are investing more in this area,” says Lee.

“As an increasing number of prestigious universities offer online programs, the perception of online degrees is surely to change,” she adds. “This is why HKUST Business School positions the DiMBA program as a comparable alternative to the traditional part-time MBA program — with the same faculty, courses, network and degree in their certificates.”

Business schools in the Asia Pacific region have been buoyed by strong domestic demand, but Online MBAs are a way to take learning across borders and attract international students across the region.

Taking learning across borders

While a number of highly ranked European business schools do enrol some participants from Asia Pacific in their Online MBAs, the numbers are limited. “Due to time zone differences, it can be tough for Asian professionals to commit to those live sessions,” says Lee, adding that the DiMBA has optional face-to-face electives.

“This represents a gap in the market for ‘blended’ Online MBA programs in Asia. Our Digital MBA will be able to offer a learning experience and extensive global alumni network that fits the schedule of Asia-based professionals.”

In Australia, a number of the top ranked schools have remained “more traditional in their offering of face-to-face Executive MBA courses” says associate professor Steve Jaynes at Macquarie Business School in Sydney, “given the value of building and fostering networks and connections in a physical setting”.

However, he adds that the coronavirus crisis has changed this. “The pandemic has challenged the operation of this model and following COVID I would expect to see a further shift to hybrid modes, harnessing the best of digital education technologies together with face-to-face delivery.”

Macquarie Business School has long offered an Online MBA that is “stackable” with various learning modules that give students the flexibility to choose how much they want to study, when and where they want.

“The value proposition of an Online MBA remains the flexibility and choice enabled for students, strengthened by the increasingly rich and interactive digital technologies that are enhancing the quality of the learning experience,” says Jaynes. “Study and course progression can be undertaken from any location and at times tailored to students’ professional and personal commitments.”

He adds that, the use of digital technologies in learning and communication within the Online MBA “aligns with the digital transformation ongoing in business, providing another value point for employer recruitment”.

Blending online and offline elements

Elsewhere, at UNSW Business School in Australia, the school has two online modes and two face-to-face modes and MBA students have the flexibility to switch between them. “Our students are busy working professionals who need to be able to fit their studies around their other commitments — and they don’t want to be in a position where there is a trade-off between quality and flexibility.”

More widely, a big attraction for overseas participants is the strength of Asia Pacific’s economy. “According to Asian Development Outlook 2022, growth of 5.2% is expected in 2022 and 5.3% in 2023,” says Lee at HKUST. “And the region’s economies urgently need to mobilize fiscal resources to restore the health of public finances and build a more inclusive and sustainable future. Therefore, these are the unique opportunities for prospective Online MBA students in Asia.”

That said, Asia Pacific business schools have been late to enter the Online MBA market, and they face tough competition from other institutions in the West with more firmly established programs.

“In the US, over the past two years, fully Online MBA programs enrolled more students than fully in-person programs,” says Lee, adding that programs in Asia Pacific will need to continue innovating in order to maintain global competitiveness.

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