Friday, October 25, 2013, 08:48
Asia Weekly: Global future requires new set of skills
By Kandy Wong in Hong KongFor China Daily Asia Weekly

Asia Weekly: Global future requires new set of skills

Students in a library at the Singapore campus of France-based business school INSEAD. The institute also has a campus in Abu Dhabi and runs an MBA program in partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing. (AFP)

Local knowledge and top-quality university education give graduates a leading edge in world of business

Savvy students have long increased their marketability to prospective employers by spending some time studying overseas. Globalization and the tough economic climate that persists across much of the West have made it an even more attractive option today.

Attaining excellent English language skills was once the focus for anyone keen to climb the career ladder in the world of global business. This created a flow of students from Asia to institutions in English-speaking countries.

But today it is those with experience of studying and working in Asia on their résumés who are likely to be in demand from employers.

With subdued job markets at home, Europeans and Americans are naturally being drawn to the dynamic economies of Asia. Multinational companies have been investing heavily in the region, creating a strong demand for skilled employees who understand the local landscape and who can interpret cultural concerns.

The best hires in these situations are people with experience of living in the region, but who also have the standard of education that world-class universities can deliver.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in China. A recent study from the Association of Executive Search Consultants found that China has the highest level of talent shortage among senior managers, due to the dearth of professionals with Mandarin and English language skills who are also familiar with local and business culture.

Fluency in Mandarin in addition to a good degree can therefore create an irresistible calling card for young people taking their first steps in a high-flying career.

To cater for this gap in the market, some of the world’s most well-known universities have opened campuses in Asia, or are working closely with other institutions in the region, giving their students a head start.

Peter Zemsky, deputy dean at the French graduate business school INSEAD, says that the institute has set up campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi as a way to reach out across the continents and train tomorrow’s executives, as well as giving different options to prospective students.

Zemsky explains that globalization over the past 10 to 15 years means that businesses now need to adapt to an international landscape and a global system of management. The skills necessary to function in this environment will be acquired through education, where students learn to interact with people from all over the world in an unfamiliar environment.

“Business is a platform for people to come together,” he says. “University is the place for students from different countries to develop face-to-face relationships.”

And attending university is increasingly becoming a reality for young people in the Asian region. A report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last year revealed that the number of people in higher education in Asia has risen sharply over the past decade.

In the past, the report said, the focus was on primary and secondary industries. But the cornerstones for the future are likely to be knowledge- and innovation-based sectors. Generating more highly skilled labor through more higher education is a way to unleash greater innovation, which drives economic growth.

ADB estimates in 2011 were that Asia would account for half of the world’s economic output by 2050, rising from $17 trillion in 2010 to $174 trillion. As Asian corporations gain a higher profile and global exposure, they are also finding a need for educated, bilingual and culturally sensitive employees.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also supports the idea that the evolution of higher education is being driven by globalization.

“Higher education trains the highly skilled workforce and contributes to the research base and innovation capacity that increasingly determines competitiveness in the knowledge-based global economy,” a report on higher education by the OECD said.

“With its central role in cross-cultural encounters, higher education fosters mutual understanding and helps to build global networks for the future. At the same time, cross-border flows of ideas, students, faculty and financing, coupled with developments in information and communication technology, are changing the environment for higher education.”

New York University (NYU) is also expanding its reach in Asia, with the opening of a Shanghai campus last month. John Robertson, associate dean for academic affairs at NYU Shanghai, explains that its first intake is split fairly evenly between Chinese and foreign students. Those in the overseas group have a number of different reasons for deciding to study in Shanghai.

“Students choose where they apply to go to school using a complex set of variables,” Robertson says. “Some are coming because they see Asia as their future, some because it is their past, and others because they want an interesting college experience before returning to their home country.”

Students who are reaping the rewards of studying overseas include Lim Mun Qwan, a Malaysian who studied at the Beijing Language and Culture University and is now studying finance at Peking University. She describes how her stay in China has changed her outlook.

“I befriended many participants from different countries who are really kind and willing to share their stories and knowledge with us,” she says. “I found myself growing and improving.”

Lim was among 10 winners of the Sime Darby foundation scholarship last year. The Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby offered a total of 2.37 million yuan ($390,000) to help the 10 students study in Peking University, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University.

This year, Sime Darby is also offering scholarships to 10 Chinese citizens to pursue programs at Malaysian universities.

“In an ever-shrinking world brought on by globalization, the competition is much tougher now compared to several decades ago,” says Musa Hitam, chairman of Sime Darby. “We hope that the scholarships will give them a competitive edge over their peers and provide scholars with opportunities to hone and pick up new skills.”

Chinese students will pursue programs in the business and engineering faculties at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, with their tuition fees, living expenses, books and laptop allowances covered.

The enthusiasm for self-improvement through education among Chinese people remains strong, including among the wealthiest. According to The Chinese Luxury Consumer White Paper 2012, jointly published by the Hurun Research Institute and the Industrial Bank, education is a priority for China’s richest.

The report noted that children’s education tops the spending list of high net worth individuals in China — defined as those having personal assets of more than 6 million yuan — who value “all-round development” and “quality-oriented education”. They are increasingly demanding an education that will foster their children’s creativity and individuality as well as ensuring they get top grades.

It is not just their children’s education that is of interest. The Hurun paper also found that almost half of China’s 2.7 million high net worth individuals intend to take part in training programs themselves over the next three years. More than a third of them like to attend conferences and lectures, while almost 30 percent have taken part in executive MBA programs or further education classes for CEOs.

Education for them is not only a means of seeking more knowledge but is also a platform for improving their social and business networks. Even for highly experienced managers, the benefits of further education are increasingly being recognized as essential in today’s competitive global marketplace.


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