Merit is victor as Japan says sayonara to hierarchy

February 8, 2002

THES reporters find out how enrolments on MBA courses around the world have fared in the face of slowing economies and the aftermath of September 11.

Five years ago a Japanese student wishing to pursue a full-time MBA had few choices but to go overseas. With a salary system traditionally based on seniority instead of merit, there was little demand for postgraduate business education.

But the globalisation of the world economy and the increasing presence of foreign multinationals in the domestic sector, graduates with business skills are in high demand.

According to a personnel agency, an MBA can receive £60,000 a year, a salary normally requiring at least ten years of loyal service. The increasing public interest in MBAs and the potential for opening new revenue streams has had many of the nation's top universities scrambling to offer courses that, they hope, will rival the best in Asia.

Keio, Japan's most prestigious private university, has offered its MBA since 1979. The school enrols 100 students a year and uses case studies to expose graduates to the latest business issues.

About 40 per cent of its 4,000 cases are Japanese translations of cases from the Harvard Business School, and every student goes through more than 500 of them during the two-year programme. The school has strong links with industry, and most of its 2,000-plus graduates are managers at Japan's major corporations.

Keio's arch-rival, Waseda University, entered the scene in a big way in 1998 with its ambitious aim of training "future business leaders in Japan and other Asian countries".

Located in central Tokyo with the support of the ministry of education, the university had no problem recruiting 100 students for its first year. Unlike Keio, the Waseda modular MBA course is taught in Japanese and English, allowing the university to recruit overseas students, who make up half the student body.

Takeshi Nagai, associate dean of the graduate school, said: "We want to attract the best talent in Asia."

Studying at the nation's two most prestigious universities is not cheap. A two-year programme costs more than £17,000.

In 1999, Hitotsubashi University became Japan's first state university to offer an MBA, a move that was not welcomed in academic circles as it broke the unwritten rule that public universities avoid commercially oriented courses.

"Is training a few elite businessmen a role for state universities? I don't think so," commented a professor from a private university.

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