Chulalongkorn University Sasin School of Management. Courtesy photos
Thailand might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of postgraduate business education in Asia. Ian Fenwick believes that should change.
Fenwick believes Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is an ideal place to study. Not only does it have an inclusive feel, says the director of Bangkok-based Chulalongkorn University’s Sasin School of Management, but it also has the infrastructure to support business, especially digital. The city was recently ranked as the second best place for digital nomads next to Lisbon, Portugal.
In addition, Thailand, and Southeast Asia as a whole, is considered an “untapped market,” according to JP Morgan: By 2030, the multinational investment banking giant reports, Southeast Asia adds approximately 140 million new consumers. Even earlier, by 2025, the Internet economy in the region is expected to generate nearly $360 billion in gross manufactured value.
“Thailand is a tremendously entrepreneurial country,” says Fenwick Poets&Quants. “It’s creative, dynamic, digital and a great place to start a business.”
A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS EDUCATION
Ian Fenwick: “I wouldn’t like to present Sasin as a religious school, but we have Buddhist monks who help us with some of the courses.”
Fenwick believes that if you want to do business in Asia, you have to immerse yourself in the culture. And with business growing so rapidly on the continent, she believes students need to understand the implications of helping to care for the planet.
“The future of business is totally uncertain,” says Fenwick. “We’re going to see perpetual disruption, and the answers aren’t at the end of a book. People have to be able to understand and operate within different cultures, because culture is important to business everywhere.”
That’s why Sasin takes a different approach to business education. Focusing on equipping students with the skills to create a better world, the school integrates Buddhism, international travel and sustainability teachings into its curriculum, all with the goal of making students “culturally agile” and environmentally responsible
“We’re not trying to teach facts. We’re not even trying to teach frameworks,” says Fenwick. “We’re trying to teach people to be aware, to be responsible and to carefully consider what’s on the table and the impact it’s going to have.”
THE FIRST INTERNATIONALLY ACCREDITED BUSINESS SCHOOL IN THAILAND
As the first internationally accredited business school in Thailand, Sasin School of Management is located in the heart of the county’s great capital.
Led by the promise to “inspire, connect and transform for a better, smarter and more sustainable world”, Sasin is one of two business schools at Chulalongkorn University. As a private school within a public university, it was created to be an “agile alternative that teaches in English according to global standards”. Founded in 1982 through a collaboration between Chulalongkorn University, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Fenwick says an international cultural element was ingrained in the ethos of the school from the beginning.
Although Kellogg and Wharton used to play a larger role (for the first five years of the school’s conception, all of the school’s faculty came from Wharton, Kellogg, and international partners), they are still involved to some extent point; Each year, executive MBA students go to Kellogg or Wharton for a two-week residential stay. For the past several years, Sasin has sent EMBA students exclusively to Kellogg.
Now, the school has partnered with 43 institutions in 19 countries. In addition, 60% of the school’s courses are taught by visiting professors.
Sasin students. “A key word for Buddhism is balance – we want students to make choices they’re proud of and can stand by,” says principal Ian Fenwick. Courtesy photos
INTEGRATING THAI CULTURE IN THE CLASSROOM
According to Fenwick, Thai culture permeates the entire program; 90% of the school’s full-time MBA students are Thai and the remaining 10% are international exchange students. For the EMBA student population, the demographics are slightly different; It is made up of people working in Thailand. Before the pandemic, about a third of EMBA students were non-Thai. After the pandemic, Fenwick says that number has dropped to about 15 percent, but he’s hopeful that number will rise soon. “Here all the students are completely immersed in a Thai environment,” he explains.
Part of this Thai immersion is the integration of Buddhism into some of the B-school courses, such as the ‘Skills and Values’ module taught in the MBA and EMBA.
“I wouldn’t want to present Sasin as a religious school,” continues Fenwick, “but we do have Buddhist monks who help us with some of the courses.”
“A key word for Buddhism is balance: we want students to make decisions they’re proud of and can stand behind,” he adds. “The idea is to go beyond simple values and skills like math, finance and accounting, and integrate values that help students make decisions that aren’t simply based on monetary value.”
A BUSINESS CURRICULUM FOCUSED ON SUSTAINABILITY
Ian Fenwick: Sasin “isn’t like some business schools; it’s a useful collective, moving forward together. That’s perhaps something that companies need to model in the future.”
Aside from the integration of Thai culture and Buddhism into Sasin’s master’s programs, sustainability has also been woven into MBA and EMBA curricula over the past decade. In fact, the school has its own Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, which focuses on promoting sustainability through an entrepreneurial mindset.
“We believe that sustainability will only be achieved through an entrepreneurial mindset and changing the way we look at business problems,” says Fenwick. “Sustainability doesn’t replace the regular business curriculum, but it’s a flavor that goes into it.”
“If we want to have a world for our children and our children’s children, then sustainability is an imperative,” he adds.
THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVEL
While EMBA students spend two weeks in the United States during their degree, MBA students have the opportunity to do an international exchange with the school’s institutional partners. In addition, each year the school welcomes students from almost half of its partners. “When we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, we usually send about two-thirds of our MBA students on exchange somewhere,” he says.
For Thai students, Fenwick says their main motivation for entering MBA or EMBA programs is to build their network and reorient themselves in Thailand; most of them were educated outside of Thailand, hold dual citizenship and will join their family businesses after graduation. For MBA or EMBA exchange students, the appeal of studying at Sasin is to enjoy and experience an immersive cultural experience and learn how cultural and sustainability lenses impact business. “We have quite a few exchange alumni who actually ended up pursuing careers here,” says Fenwick.
“I’ve taught at many business schools around the world, and this is the only place I’ve been where students mentor each other,” says Fenwick. “It’s not cut-throat like some business schools; it is a useful collective, moving forward together. This is perhaps something that companies need to model in the future.”
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