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In sharply growing numbers, students from India and China – and elsewhere in Asia – are flocking to MBA programs delivered at home and abroad.

Canada is one of the beneficiaries.

In 2011, Canada ranked fifth among Top 10 global destinations for MBA test scores from Asian citizens, according to a new report by the Graduate Management Admission Council, a non-profit organization that administers the graduate business entrance exam worldwide.

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Last year, Canada accounted for 3.81 per cent of test scores sent by Asian citizens, coming in slightly behind Singapore (in fourth place with 3.87 per cent of scores) after being slightly ahead of Singapore in 2007. Meanwhile, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and China all reported an increase in the number of Asian students seeking graduate business education closer to home in the region.

However, all countries in the GMAC list were dwarfed by the United States, the No. 1 destination, with 68.8 per cent of the market last year.

While Canada dipped slightly in the rankings, over-all demand in the Asia region for a business degree grew over the past five years, with 289,388 test scores in 2011 marking a 39.5-per-cent increase from 2007.

The GMAC report highlights the increasingly-global nature of business education and the competitive challenge for Canada, says Ivey School of Business dean Carol Stephenson, of the University of Western Ontario.

"We are global players," she says. "If you think you are going to be a terrific school and attract a huge number of international students, you definitely have to be high quality, global and competitive."

Ivey, an early player in Asia, runs an executive MBA program in Hong Kong and is the top producer of Asia-based case studies. (The entry by Starbucks into China is a top seller.) As well, Ivey has partnerships with three top business schools in India.

Earlier this month, Ivey welcomed students from 25 different countries for its 135-person MBA class of 2013, with 21 per cent born in India and 8 per cent from China.

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Dean Stephenson says international diversity is a must, given employer demand for graduates equipped to work in a global environment. "We prefer to get the best students from a grouping of countries," she says. "That makes the international experience in learning in the classroom that much better."

A key trend in GMAC's Asia report is the number of test scores sent by Chinese citizens, nearly triple the volume since 2007 thanks to rising demand, especially from female students, for specialized master's programs outside China.

That same trend shows up at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, which offers a Master of Management – Early Career Masters with little or no work experience required. This year, 39 per cent of applicants for the one-year specialty program came from China, up from 10 per cent four years ago.

"The early-career option resonates more with the Chinese," observes Arthur Redillas, associate director of admissions and recruitment at Sauder. "Many of them are not willing to wait to gain the three-to-five years of work experience [usually required for entry into a full-time MBA]"

The school's introduction of the specialty program several years ago came during a global dip in applications for the full-time MBA, underscoring the need to be nimble in an intensifying international market for top students, says Mr. Redillas.

Linda Schweitzer, assistant dean of MBA programs at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, says the growth in international demand for business education presents opportunities for Canada.

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She notes that the number of applicants from China to the Ottawa campus has doubled over the past year. Meanwhile, Sprott offers an MBA program in Shanghai and hopes to expand partnerships in India.

Like those at other business schools, she says Canada needs to boost efforts to recruit overseas students.

"I am not sure we are marketing ourselves, as a country, as an education destination," she says. "If we want to maintain our share of international MBA students, we need to take a national perspective." She urges greater clarity in information and processing of student visas.

"The pie is getting bigger," she says of the global market for business education. "It would be good if we were positioned to keep riding that."

Student winners

A Mandarin-language instruction game developed by undergraduate students from four different universities won top prize ($5,000) at the Paul and Tom Kinnear Business Plan Competition held last month at Queen's University School of Business.

The four-person team – Jane Wu, a fourth-year Queen's commerce student; Jessica Fan, a business and design student at Simon Fraser University; and engineering undergraduates Rafal Dittwald and Ryan Wagner of the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo respectively – created a virtual community for learners to interact with an animated character and boost language skills. The students hope to take their prototype to market.

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