June 6, 2014 7:00 pm JST

Singapore a revolving door for Western universities

MAYUKO TANI, Nikkei staff writer

Chicago University Booth School of Business (Photo by Mayuko Tani)

SINGAPORE -- One of the world's top business schools will close its campus here once its 80 or so students graduate next year. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which opened the campus in 2000, is unable to renew the school building's lease.

      School representatives did search for alternative sites in Singapore but in the end settled on moving the branch to Hong Kong. A bargain price on a piece of land was a determining factor. School officials also think a Hong Kong campus will help to attract more students from China.

     The new campus will be ready in 2017, but in July working adults can start taking Master of Business Administration courses at a temporary building. About 80 students will be accepted per year.

     Having stressed the fact that Booth successfully "attracted a large number of students from Southeast Asia" in 14 years of operating the Singapore campus, a school official said: "We wanted to build our student base and alumni base a little bit further north, and be able to attract a few more students from China, Japan, and Korea." The school will continue to offer shorter-term courses, such as executive development programs, in Singapore.

     The Booth School is not alone. New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, which opened its Asian campus in 2007 for master's students, has decided to close the branch in the summer of 2015. According to some media reports, the number of students at NYU's Singapore campus failed to even reach half the target figure of 80 a year. 

     "Due to a combination of lower than expected enrollment, higher than anticipated costs and the inability to secure adequate support from the Singapore government to make the campus financially viable," said Tisch School Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell. "NYU was compelled to make the very difficult decision of discontinuing operation."

     The University of Nevada, Las Vegas' William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration could also be added to the list. It opened a Singapore campus in 2010. Having failed to get a local affiliate school to make a larger investment, the U.S. university may scale back its operations here or even withdraw.

     "Educational institutions ultimately have to make a business decision," a Singaporean government official in charge of inviting graduate schools said.

Expansions, too

But some universities are planning to expand their presence in Singapore. France's Insead, which in 2000 became the first Western graduate business school to establish a full-fledged Asian campus, has spent 50 million Singaporean dollars ($39.9 million) expanding its campus here.

     Insead, originally a French acronym for the Institut Europeen d'Administration des Affaires, will complete its new business leader development center by the end of the year. The center's gross floor space will increase 50%, to 30,000 sq. meters. Currently, some 400 students a year, including working adults, take MBA courses at Insead here. The French graduate business school also offers special short-term courses to corporate executives. After the expansion, enrollment is expected to significantly increase. 

     Essec Business School, or Ecole Superieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, is well thought of for the MBA courses it offers to working adults. Among Europe's foremost business schools, Essec set up its Asian campus in Singapore in 2005. It recently spent S$40 million for a new campus, scheduled to open in January, in the western neighborhood of Buona Vista, where many research institutions and universities gather.

      Essec, which has been leasing space in Singapore's business district, decided it needed its own campus to meet rising demand. It is estimated that the number of students at Essec's Singapore campus will triple to 1,500 in a few years.

     Singapore and Hong Kong have advantages over other Asian metropolises when it comes to welcoming prestigious foreign universities. Each is easy to get to from other parts of Asia, has an English-speaking environment and numerous multinational companies.

     And Asia has a big attraction for European and U.S. universities. As the region's economies and middle classes expand, people are becoming more able and willing to spurge on higher education.

     There is also pressure on Western graduate business schools to set down stakes in Asia. More and more multinational corporations are looking for employees with Asian backgrounds as they expand in the region.

     The fact that so many Western economies are experiencing flat growth is also persuading university deans to consider Asia.

     The choice seems to come down to Hong Kong or Singapore. "Singapore authorities welcomed us," Herve Mathe, dean of Essec Asia-Pacific Center, said about why the business school picked Singapore over Hong Kong. To some universities, Singapore is also thought to have an edge over Hong Kong because of its diversity, its distance from mainland China and that country's massive pollution problems, and because there is less Chinese government influence in the city-state.

     But to others, Hong Kong's proximity to China is also one of its strengths. Many students from China as well as from the rest of Asia who intend to do business in China upon graduation choose to study in Hong Kong. According to the most recent Financial Times survey on schools with MBA courses, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, founded in 1991, was chosen Asia's No. 1 school for the second year running.

     HKUST tailors some of its courses to students who aspire to careers in China and other parts Asia. About 30% of students enrolled there in 2013 were from Asian regions other than Hong Kong and China; about 15% of them were from China.