KAIST Aims to Be Top MBA School in Northeast Asia
By Na Jeong-ju
Will Seoul be able to achieve its goal of becoming a regional financial center like Hong Kong and Singapore?
Some experts at home and abroad are doubtful about the city's vision although President Lee Myung-bak, a former CEO of Hyundai, and his business-friendly administration has touted it as one of their top policy goals.
Hong Kong and Singapore have what Seoul doesn't have as attractions for global financial companies. They are friendlier to global firms; speak English better; provide better living conditions for expatriates; levy less corporate taxes; and don't have threats from North Korea.
No one will argue that Seoul should clear such obstacles to realize its hub dream. And to Jung Koo-yul, dean of the Graduate School of Finance at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), there is one more issue.
``Most Koreans go abroad to get master's degrees in business administration. It costs tremendously,'' Jung said in an interview with The Korea Times.
As the country's first graduate school offering only finance MBA programs, the KAIST Graduate School of Finance (KGIF) is seeking a bold change in the way Koreans learn about the industry. Despite a short history of finance MBA programs, Korea is becoming more enthusiastic about offering learning opportunities, and the school is at the center of the progress, he said.
``My goal is to set up the solid groundwork for KGIF to grow into the best finance MBA school in Northeast Asia,'' Jung said. ``We are trying to offer the best MBA programs not only to Koreans but also to foreigners who are seeking job opportunities at Korean firms. It is essential for Korea to have top MBA schools to become a financial powerhouse.''
The school is now offering lectures on financial derivatives, investment banking, risk management, asset management and various tools used by financial experts to do their jobs more perfectly. It has earned arguably the best reputation as an MBA school here, but it needs more professors, more students and a better teaching environment to reach a higher level, according to Jung.
In partnership with Citibank Korea, the South Korean unit of U.S. financial giant Citigroup, Korea Securities Dealers Association, Woori Financial Group and other firms, it is now developing programs to nurture highly skillful financial workers. As the industry evolves, firms will need more professionals equipped with practical knowledge and techniques to survive global competition and to find new growth engines, he said.
Time to Move On
After years of in-house cleaning, Korean financial firms are setting their eyes on Asian markets with huge growth potential. Banks and securities firms plan to set up more sales outlets and branches this year, with most overseas networking centered in Asia.
While banks are aggressively making inroads into overseas markets, the government and regulators are revamping the legal framework to encourage firms to do businesses in foreign markets.
The government has allowed banks to take over not only foreign banks, but also brokerage houses and insurers overseas as part of efforts to help them turn into globally competitive players.
``There is and will be a strong demand for financial experts,'' said Jung, who teaches accounting and corporate governance at the school. ``Most people go to the United States to take MBA courses. It is not long ago that KAIST started the courses, but it is able to develop more competitive programs.''
For example, Korean students in the U.S. conduct case studies of foreign firms, which they don't really know about. However, KAIST students cover a wide range of case studies including analysis of the successes and failures experienced by many Korean firms, the professor said.
``We are now focusing on localizing MBA programs. Consolidating relationships with companies is also important to help graduates get ideal jobs,'' Jung said.
The KGIF produced its first batch of graduates in February, most of whom are working at brokerages, banks and asset management firms. Building a strong network of alumni and raising the school's global reputation are the nuts and bolts for it to join the ranks of top MBA schools in Asia, he said.
The KGIF is modeled on the business school at New York University (NYU) to develop into one of Asia's top MBA schools.
``NYU has balanced programs of theories and training and excellent faculty members,'' Jung said. ``It is located close to Wall Street and jointly conducts lectures for students with financial firms. Students can learn about their experience through lectures. NYU provides a good example of academia-industry cooperation.''
The KGIF is now attracting professors from prestigious MBA schools around the world to offer better lectures to students.
It receives applications for tenure-track and visiting faculty positions. The positions are open to candidates in all areas of finance at any rank and nationality, according to KGIF officials. The position entails teaching one or two sections per semester and involvement in curriculum developments. Courses are taught either in Korean or in English.
The school has strengthened exchanges with prominent colleges abroad. Students participate in exchange programs during their third semester and take courses at foreign partner schools. The program is designed to help students build a global perspective.
Its partner schools include Lancaster University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at Irvine, Ohio State University and the University of Maryland.