During Orientation my classmates were advised by an INSEAD staffer that Singaporean taxi drivers wouldn’t know where to go if you asked them to take you to “INSEAD” (pronounced IN-SEE-ADD”). You should tell them to go to “INSEED” instead. This was pretty funny, but sadly I wasn’t surprised at the lack of awareness of our school brand in my country.
When I told my peers at work that I was going to do my MBA at INSEAD, the majority of them didn’t know what it was. The rest of my time was spent explaining what it was and how it was ranked #6 by the FT, just below Harvard (which everyone recognises). The few who did know INSEAD, however, were aware that it was a top business school.
Sadly, in Singapore people are more likely to hear of lower-ranked business schools from NTU, NUS and SMU - largely because they have many different programmes, not just for business, and many Singaporeans have attended these universities before. So, while you need a higher GMAT score (we’re in the 700s, they’re in the mid-high 600s), three languages and preferably international work experience with interviews by international alumni to get into INSEAD, you are unlikely to impress the average Singaporean on the street much.
Importantly, my boss, my boss’s boss and my CEO all know about INSEAD. My CEO has an MBA and knows that if I come back, I will bring added value. So, hopefully it appears that the people who do matter in your careers are more likely to know of the good schools. If your prospective boss has never heard of INSEAD then it would be worrying and I suggest you apply for another job where it is valued! Don’t waste your €50,000.
However, more can be done about the awareness of INSEAD in Singapore. There are stories in the press of how local b-school students have taken on some initiative in a local or regional context. People read these stories and gain a good impression of these students and the schools they come from. The last INSEAD article I noticed was an interview with our new dean, Frank Brown, last year. (For those who want to read it, it’s on the notice board next to Reception.) Unless there are more such articles appearing regularly in the press and other forms of involvement to raise awareness of INSEAD, its name will continue to draw blank stares from people I know.
Not that INSEAD is short of Singaporean applicants, I’m sure. I know a few who aspire to get into INSEAD, a few who tried but didn’t make it, one who wanted it but felt he couldn’t make it and went to a mid-tier US school instead. There’s also a good number of Singaporeans in my batch (although no more than 15% of each nationality is allowed).
Also, I know that INSEAD courts top management from big local companies for morning talks by professors. My own mother was invited by INSEAD on a regular basis, and I know of another top-flight CEO from a public listed company that all Singaporeans would’ve heard of, who attends these talks readily. I’ve even seen invitations to my own senior management. There are at least 3 Singaporeans in my section who are here on Government scholarships. So INSEAD has at least focused on the people at the top, who matter.
Thus, based on my limited encounters, the hypothesis stands: The majority of Singaporeans do not know of INSEAD. However, those who do, believe it is a good school. Many in top management know of INSEAD and some may have even participated in events organised by INSEAD.
We should keep it going, and raise more awareness about what we’re doing in the region and in this country, which hosts our second campus. Very well, you may ask, as you think about heading back to Europe or Africa or America after your MBA. What can we get out of it? I can list a few reasons:
- Improved job prospects for those who wish to work in Singapore or the region. Hey, when your classmates in Asia benefit, our entire network grows stronger too …
- Given the international nature of many classmates’ work, there may be a chance in the next few decades of our careers that some of you will return to Singapore, liaise with Singaporeans, work with a Singaporean company or accept our sovereign wealth funds to prop up your ailing investment bank (partly kidding!)
- Rankings. After improving our branding in Singapore, we can work on raising more awareness in the rest of the Asian region. At the same time our Dean is working to raise awareness in the US. Altogether this will strengthen our reputation and it may have a positive impact on various B-school rankings. Many top MBA rankings are reviewed by US publications and I believe there are other rankings by Asian publications.
When INSEAD’s rankings rise every year, we all look good - current students, alumni, faculty, deans and other staff. When we reclaim our #1 spot in the Economist as top European school (I say “will” and not “if”!) our European classmates will look very good again. Likewise for any Asian rankings. We must also hold our own in International rankings or climb up steadily just like we have for the FT.
I don’t mean to sound so self-serving but frankly, every other B-school student would wish the same for his or her school. So far the quality of lectures has been excellent and highly memorable, and the company I’m in is brilliant. This is definitely the highest level of engagement I’ve had. So why can’t we raise more awareness about what we’re doing and let the rest of this country know about it?