Study abroad key to Japan’s future

Overseas education vital for Japan to stay in the game: scholar

by Mizuho Aoki

The lack of student interest in studying abroad is casting a shadow over the future of this quickly graying nation, according to a noted German business professor.

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of studying abroad,” David Bach, the 35-year-old dean of programs at the IE Business School in Madrid, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

“It’s incredibly important for Japan to have global managers. I think a global management education experience is a very important contribution to that, knowing people from all over the world, learning from them and learning a foreign language.”

Bach, who was in Tokyo earlier this month to recruit students and meet alumni, said that because the Japanese market is bound to shrink due to its aging and shrinking population, Japan must bolster its international business expertise if it is to remain a wealthy nation.

“That means understanding the world. And earlier generations of Japanese managers did that very well,” Bach said. “They went to Europe, they went to the U.S., starting in the ’50s and the ’60s, learning and acquiring the skills, understanding the customers and going out in full force.”

It’s important for succeeding generations to maintain this spirit in light of tremendous new opportunities in emerging markets, including India, Brazil and China, said Bach, a professor of strategic management.

Founded in 1973, the IE Business School is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world and has a diverse student body. Often listed among the world’s top 20 MBA programs by the Financial Times and The Economist, 90 percent of the students in its English MBA programs come from abroad, covering more than 70 different countries.

“You’ll not get that diversity anywhere else. In the United States, at the most international diverse MBA program you might have 30 percent maybe 35 percent international students. Not 90 percent,” Bach said.

The school offers each course in both English and Spanish. Of the approximately 700 students in its one-year MBA program, about 500 opt for the English classes, according to the professor.

“The leading European programs, such as ours, INSEAD (in France) and IMD (in Switzerland) are increasingly one-year programs. They are not two-year programs,” he said, referring to the MBA programs in the U.S. “So, essentially, with half the time, with a lot more diversity, you can get the same degree.”

Bach graduated from Yale University and received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

Bach, who also studied political science outside his own country, said it’s very important to have the experience of living abroad and interacting with the people there.

“It provides you with ways to critically assess your own country and your own experience. Until you are in a foreign country, you take everything for granted,” Bach said. “Comparison is incredibly important when it comes to gaining real insight.”

Asked about the impression of Japanese students, Bach said they are smart and well-prepared. “The Japanese students add a lot to our program.”

The knowledge of Japanese students, who have grown up in a Japanese political economy and who understand the way Japanese corporate governance works, is very important to the MBA programs, he said. “Japanese students contribute something in our discussions that others cannot contribute.”

The school enrolls about 10 to 15 Japanese students every year. Although the numbers have dropped off in the past, they are picking up again and the school hopes more will apply, Bach said.