International students have by and large favored two destinations for GME—Europe and the United States. Today, though, another region is vying for the top spot: Asia.
Historically, universities in Asia haven’t been represented on the world’s most recognizable higher education rankings, but that’s changing. Between 2016 and 2021, universities in Asia increased their total representation on the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings from 26 percent to 32 percent. The Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC™) 2021 Application Trends Survey shows that, over the same period, the number of international applications to Asia-Pacific business schools increased by 18 percent.
It’s widely acknowledged that diversity in higher education can improve the quality of learning in the classroom, a factor that is even more vital when teaching global business studies. But there are challenges to enticing students from the West to study in Asia, not least cultural differences and the logistics of marketing to students from the other side of the world.
To improve recruitment of international students at business schools in Asia, GMAC has released a new research brief, Building the West to East Pipeline. Along with in-depth insights into Western applicants — including their preferences for GME and desired post-GME career — the research brief also presents recommendations for how Asian business schools can improve the recruitment of Western students.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the demographics of Western students and key recommendations for Asian institutions.
Understanding Western Applicants to Business Schools in Asia
To successfully market to Western students, an understanding of this demographic is essential. While Western student motivations for GME may vary, there are factors that link the majority of those that are interested in studying in Asia. In this brief, GMAC has utilized GMAT score sending data to shed light on this demographic.
The data shows that, by and large, Western students applying to schools in Asia are under the age of 30. 40 percent of unique Western score senders (both citizens and residents) in 2022 were under the age of 22 and 28 percent were between 25-30. Western citizens applying to Asian business schools tend to be a little older with 39 percent landing in the 25-30 bracket.
Additionally, most Western citizens/residents applying in Asia have already studied business or commerce at an undergraduate level, suggesting that these students aren’t looking to switch careers or delve into a new topic. Instead, they're looking to use GME to build on existing knowledge.
Just 12 percent of Western applicants to Asian business schools in 2017 had a background in arts or humanities, which dropped to just 4 percent in 2022.
Focus on Specialized Business Master Programs
The most popular program type for Western citizens/residents applying to schools in Asia is the Master in Finance. 27 percent of Western GMAT score takers applied to this program in 2022. Additionally, the number of Western students choosing this program has risen 50 percent since 2018. In contrast, since 2018, the traditional two-year MBA has seen declining interest among Western students as applications decreased by 50 percent.
Meanwhile, other specialized Business Master’s programs like the Master in Management and Master in Data Analytics have also seen increased interest over the last five years. Master in Data Analytics programs have experienced the largest growth in interest with the number of Western citizens/residents sending GMAT scores to these programs rising 80 percent since 2018.
Highlight Career Opportunities in Asia
We know that Western GME applicants with an interest in studying in Asia tend to be at the start of their careers, as shown by age range data for this group. But business schools in Asia should also be aware that these young GME students may be heading East both to study and develop their careers in Asia.
Data from GMAC’s 2021 Prospective Students Survey shows that most Western students who are interested in studying in Asia also wish to pursue a career in the region (60 percent). Since 2017, the number of Western students with a preference for studying in Asia who say they wish to work in East and Southeast Asia after their degree has increased by 19 percent.
The survey did not gather specific data on country preferences for full-time jobs in Asia. However, the 2022 GMAT score sending data shows that Singapore and China are the most popular destinations for Western citizens who wish to study in the region.
Introduce Real-World Experiences to Programs
However, it’s not just a full-time job that Western students are seeking in Asia. Forty-five percent of those students with a preference for studying at an Asian business school say they would like to complete an internship as part of their program. Additionally, 26 percent say they would like to participate in a work program during their course.
According to GMAT score sending data, 52 percent of Western citizens/residents who say they prefer to study in Asia come from a mid-level job while 30 percent come from an entry-level position. Consequently, these candidates are searching for ways to gain further work experience alongside studying, largely in preparation for a career in Asia.
From this data, we can infer that, as a whole, Western students who wish to study in Asia are at an early stage in their careers, have an interest in Business Master’s programs, and wish to continue their careers in Asia after graduating.
If business schools in Asia wish to boost international recruitment — particularly of Western students — they must focus their attention on marketing campaigns for Master’s programs and provide opportunities for students to explore work options during their courses.
To uncover more insights into Western students and their preferences for studying in Asia, read the Building the West to East Pipeline research brief.