The MBA in Singapore: A Microcosm of Communication Training for Management

By Rogers, Priscilla S.; Wong, Irene F. H. | Business Communication Quarterly, June 2005 | Go to article overview

The MBA in Singapore: A Microcosm of Communication Training for Management


Rogers, Priscilla S., Wong, Irene F. H., Business Communication Quarterly


This study assesses communication training provided in MBA and executive MBA programs in Singapore. The authors found that Singapore is a microcosm in terms of (a) requirements for English competency, (b) the variety of communication offerings, and (c ) the lack of uniformity in the delivery of communication training. Whereas Singaporean MBA/EMBA programs sit in a highly internationalized environment with substantial foreign student intake, and whereas Singapore is known for adopting best practices in education from around the world, communication training for management evidences a veneer of Asian content and imitation rather than innovation. These findings caused the authors to rethink what they have traditionally regarded as management communication and to consider the need for further internationalization, not only in this multicultural city-state but worldwide.

Keywords: communication training; Singapore; MBA

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AN EDUCATION HUB in the Asia Pacific region, Singapore is an island measuring roughly 692.7 square kilometers--just slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C.--nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeastern Asia. Once a Crown Colony of the British Empire, since independence in 1965, Singapore's economy has grown by an average of 9% each year. Today more than 85% of its population (4,353,893 by July 2004 numbers) own their homes, and literacy rates are at more than 90% (Choo, 2000).

As of 2001, one in five Singaporeans enters local universities, and the Ministry of Education's goal is to increase this number to one in four by 2010 (Tan, 2002). By far the most popular field of study among students in 2002 was business, with 52.8%, the second most popular being information technology at a significantly lower 15.7%. Fifty-six percent of graduates in 2002 took degrees in business (Wu, 2003).

In his commencement address to the first graduating class from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan characterized Singapore's educational opportunities as "a rich buffet of education services" (Tan, 2002). Indeed, this small, cosmopolitan city-state has been referred to as "a 'Global Schoolhouse,'" with a self-sustaining education ecosystem that offers a diverse and distinctive mix of quality education services to the world" (Economic Development Board Singapore [EDB], 2003).

COMMUNICATION TRAINING

We expected that examining communication training in graduate programs of management in Singapore would be instructive for several reasons. Although Singapore's language of commerce and education is English, we wondered if its multiculturalism might have prompted more and different types of communication training or new venues than one finds elsewhere around the world, especially given the local interest in English-language proficiency and the business pressures of cross-border discourse.

We also had hoped to find considerable, even innovative communication offerings, given the proclivity of the Singaporean leadership to implement international "best practices" in industry and education, particularly from the United States and Europe. Moreover, looking at graduate management education through an Asian lens might prompt us to see communication training in new ways.

This article describes our research process and explains how our definition of what constitutes communication training changed during the course of this study. Subsequently we describe Singapore's historical context and its educational environment; overview the landscape of communication training in programs for graduate management education; and, finally, look closely at communication offerings in Singapore's four top MBA programs, two local and two foreign.

RESEARCH PROCESS

To cover communication training for management in graduate business programs we investigated the entire portfolio of MBAs, including programs for individuals with some work experience (known simply as an MBA), programs for individuals from foreign countries (known under various labels, such as the international MBA [IMBA] or global MBA), and programs for experienced managers (known as an executive MBA [EMBA] ). …

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