May 17, 2008

INSEAD vs. HKUST MBA (is INSEAD Singapore an Asian School?)

update: May 24th - I've updated a few unofficial numbers from the 2007 report soon to be published on INSEAD web site. All updated data is in this color and in italics. If the final report on the web is a little different, don't be too surprised, just point it to me!

update: June 11 - the INSEAD official 2007 career report is out, see it here.

This is going to be a one-off unusual post, because I honestly know/knew very little about HKUST MBA - which is the MBA program of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. You might say - what the heck is this post about? Why INSEAD vs. HKUST ?! What happened to INSEAD vs. LBS?

Recently, not once - but several times - I received mails and thread-links from blog readers about comparisons between these schools, especially between INSEAD Singapore and HKUST, and that HKUST is the best in Asia and trumps INSEAD, and repeated posts about how INSEAD sucks apparently compared to HKUST MBA and so on. I was very intrigued and checked a few of these posts. What I found was some assertions about how HKUST is Asia focused, is fantastic and that "INSEAD Singapore" is a lousy place and doesn't compare with "INSEAD France" and similar posts. I can understand the enthusiasm for their school being top notch, but really - I don't get the idea of comparing by needlessly dragging some other school and bashing it. What has INSEAD got to do with "best Asian school comparison"? I figured that I have some free time, so let me get to my favorite method -

Let's look at numbers, people! why speculate endlessly?

But before that - one major clarification. INSEAD is not a "Asian" school. There is no "INSEAD Singapore" as a separate entity. Comparisons that mention "INSEAD Singapore" and anything else is plain stupid. It's just that INSEAD happens to have a campus in Singapore to get better access to Asia. There are many misconceptions about "INSEAD Singapore" vs. "INSEAD France" - so please take a moment to read this INSEAD Singapore FAQ. I've covered quite a bit on this topic. People seem to make statements with no clue as to how INSEAD really works. Now. Here's my methodology which ultimately focuses on career results - as that is what this whole debate seems to be about.

  1. No upfront bias - I know pretty much nothing about HKUST, so I will neither praise or bash it, it may be a fantastic finance school better than INSEAD and Wharton and everyone else. So I'll rely on some figures straight out of their website.
  2. No subjective statements - No "he said that, she said this" or "finance there is best in world" or whatever. These are too subjective - the end result of anything world class is resultant world class numbers - i.e. careers, nobels, formal rankings (with the burden of whatever subjectivity they have) etc.
  3. A simple side-by-side comparison and highlight of what the numbers say. Nothing more, nothing less. No tricky deductions.
  4. I will focus on the career report as the prime measure - after all, that is what finally sums up comprehensively the value a school provides. The best schools get great people, create a great atmosphere, and then manage to provide their students great opportunities and a strong network. So I'll work with some of the categories HKUST's own career report focuses on.
  5. I will be using the 2007 Career Report for HKUST and the 2006 Career Report for INSEAD (the 2007 report, while not out officially yet, is better than 2006 in almost all respects, but unfortunately I cannot use it). Once the 2007 report for INSEAD comes out, I will update the relevant figures. I will be using general average salaries wherever possible instead of getting into regional bias. Keep in mind I'm comparing 2 schools that are equivalent (as claimed), so all comparisons must be fair. Update: I have updated the data with 2007 numbers. The official report is not out yet (just printing)
  6. I will not use any numbers from INSEAD career report that do not have an equivalent figures for HKUST.
  7. I will use the 2007 HK$ to US$ exchange rate of 7.8 HK$ = 1 US$ (using data from HKUST page). In 2006, the US$ was stronger than it is today, but I will still use the older $ figures reported in the INSEAD 2006 report. In general, I will multiply the INSEAD 2006 $ numbers by 1.03 (3%)to provide a minor adjustment for both overall salary increase and $ depreciation.
I hope you will see that I am being as fair and objective as I can possibly be! Average annual Salary *Note: The HKUST report does not mention if the salary is inclusive of bonus or excluding. The number for INSEAD excludes joining bonus.

HKUST (2007) INSEAD (2006/7) Notes
Average Salary 66,800$ 116,200$
75% higher
Average Salary (outside HK/China) 57,202$ -
no such classification for INSEAD
Average Salary within HK/China 59,000$ 104,000$
100,200$ (APAC complete)
INSEAD APAC includes China, India (accounts for lower wages in average).
Median annual Salary

HKUST (2007) INSEAD (2007) Notes
Median Salary 60,324$ 115,000$
Median Salary (outside HK/China) 51,029$ 110,004$ no such classification for INSEAD
Geographic Locations of work after MBA

HKUST (2007) INSEAD (2007)
Dominant Geography 78% (HK 68% & China 10%) no info yet
23% (UK)
Rest of world 22% 77%

update:A reader informs that I should mention 17,000 INSEAD MBA and not 32,000 as it includes EMBA. I'm not too sure about that - the HKUST MBA reported number is 3000, but its class size is ~60 (as mentioned here) and the school was established in 1991. That means total MBA number should be ~60*17 = 1020. Then the number 3000 probably includes exchange and exec-MBA, in which case the comparative should be 32,000 for INSEAD. I will keep this unless I have a better access to fact.

HKUST (2007) INSEAD (2006/7)
Country of Origin 53% (China & HK) 10% (US/India)
Nationalities (~) in a class 20 60
Network 3000 in 38 countries, majority in HK/China (mentioned on site) 32,000 in 150 countries
Career Distribution

HKUST (2007)INSEAD (2006/7)
Finance 43% 29% 28%
Consulting/Services 14% 35% 39%
Industry 43% 36% 33%
MBA Ranking 2008/7

FT 2008 Global Ranking 17 6
EIU (good comical value) 20 17
Some company recruitment observations
  • HKUST report does not say who hired how many - so I cannot compare top employers in sectors
  • Bain, BCG or McKinsey (apart from BTO) did not hire in HKUST. These big 3 hired 123 (excluding former consultants) from INSEAD.
  • For tech enthusiasts - Google recruits globally from INSEAD (7 in 2007), but Google China in HKUST
  • Microsoft HK recruited from HKUST, however Microsoft does not recruit on campus from INSEAD. Microsoft, come to INSEAD, you're losing people to Google ;)
  • Posters about HKUST mention that it is a fantastic way into iBanks. What I'm curious is that 2006/7 INSEAD Finance average base (~median) was about 113,000$ 119,000$ (not including the bonuses). However, in HKUST 2007, with 43% of class going in finance (and presumably a large number of them into ibanks as claimed), why is the overall average ~60,000 US$ in HK? Shouldn't it be over 100K?
  • INSEAD is about 13 times bigger than HKUST, with job spreads across a wide geographic range (people went to 350 companies in 55 countries to work in 2007), and has higher salaries across all sectors. I find that intriguing.. with mostly (presumably) high compensation, I would think the standard deviation should be low for HKUST and the average should be higher.
Some comments on how going to HKUST is a much better bet than the poor brand INSEAD is in Asia.

All I can tell you is we're seeing a healthy interest from top companies that want to hire INSEAD grads into China and HK. APAC average and median in 2007 are comparable to levels in Europe and US - and compares, for e.g. to Stanford. Why anyone would be eager to bring INSEADers into Asia with such salaries especially for a crappy school with no brand beats me ;)

update: If you are curious, here is a detailed side-by-side of INSEAD vs. (alongside) Chicago GSB, Columbia, MIT Sloan, Darden and Ross.

So there. That ends my first-and-last post on this topic. I just couldn't help it. If you are a reader of this blog and read posts in some threads going over the same debate, please feel free to link this there! And for those who love HKUST, it's all good but keep us out of the debate and trashing us. Pick LBS next time, really ;) ;)

PS - for those who wish to comment. If your comments point out to statistical mistakes, I will make necessary amendments with credit to you. If it is a non-numbers based argument I will neither respond nor update my post. If it is a rant, I will remove it if offensive. If it is a gentle yet persuasive argument, that will help all readers.


Pradeep said...

Good one! I personally believe INSEAD Vs HKUST is a no-contest with INSEAD being light years ahead.
Another set of numbers you could have concetrated on is the admission stats. Avg GMAT, avg workex, # of ppl with International experience, # of people with entrepreneurial exp, number of industries, etc.

necromonger said...


As I mentioned in my "methodology" section, I stayed away from GMAT /# of industries etc because I cannot get accurate statistics from HKUST's pages/career report. It would not be fair for me to speculate without hard facts.

Anonymous said...

Hi necromonger.

Good post, but I would like to add a short clarification on "Network" (which don't change a picture, though; just to be precise):

INSEAD: 32,200 members worldwide, 17,000 of which are MBA alumni (from INSEAD web-site). It means that the rest are EMBAs + executive education. Now be fare with HKUST: from my point of view you should compare 17,000 INSEAD MBAs to 3,000 HKUST MBAs, otherwise you should add alumni from Kellog =)


Anonymous said...

Excellent article!

Allow me to begin with saying that no one at HKUST questions INSEAD's

I am sure the figures you have posted are from HKUST website or some other reliable source. The diversity numbers do not seem right, 50% from China + HK, is certainly not the case for class of 08/09.

The salary figures are what they are, but its not really fair to compare them at face value unless you have specific numbers for specific countries and not continents.

The student quality is without a doubt higher at INSEAD and thus entering salaries at INSEAD are much higher than at HKUST.

If you look at % increase from pre to post MBA salaries HKUST looks much better than INSEAD.

Bottom line, 2 totally different schools for different applicant pools. While I do believe HKUST is the best Asian B-School, I have no doubt INSEAD is the better of the two!


necromonger said...

Dear HKUST '08,

Thank you for the gentle response.(are you the same who sent me a mail as well?) My post was not an intention to belittle or create unnecessary rancor - but simply to respond to what I read in as much a factual manner.

I don't want to get into the "which is better" debate - am sure HKUST offers a lot of value to people who seek specific experiences. I could debate some of your assertions, but ultimately the best way each school is served is by describing what the school offers as opposed to what some "other school does not offer." But it was great to see you put this post and that helps give a different perspective to those who are trying to make their b-school choices.

(PS - if you want to put in any specific figures from verifiable sources that will help paint a more useful picture, please go ahead)

Anonymous said...

How come your entire comparison is entirely $$ based?

This is coming from Economist. While I agree the overall ranking is not accurate, these sub segments present reality.

11:6 for HKUST Final score. Every advantage Insead might have is only tied to better students coming in and higher salaries since they are all ibankers and consultants. However post graduation salary increase is very low for Insead.

Open new career opportunities:

HKUST 10, Insead 35

Diversity of recruiters:

HKUST and Insead both 4

Number of jobs 3 months post graduation:

HKUST 21, Insead 66

Jobs found through career services:

HKUST 3, Insead 14

Student assesment:

HKUST 35, Insead 60

Personal development and education:

HKUST 3, Insead 8

Faculty quality:

HKUST 6, Insead 62

Student quality:

Insead 19, HKUST 86

Student diversity:

HKUST 2, Insead 31

Education experience:

HKUST 1, Insead 5

Increase in salary:

Insead 26, HKUST 76

Post graduation salary increase:

HKUST 13, Insead 91

Final salary:

Insead 13, HKUST 100

Potential to network:

Insead 21, HKUST 60

Breadth of alumni network:

HKUST 67, Insead 96

Internationalization of almuni:

Insead 16, HKUST 42

Alumni effectiveness:

Insead 9, HKUST 42


with this i want to bury the hatchet.

necromonger said...


Thanks for the post and putting an alternate approach to looking at the schools. I think we can agree to disagree - but I have no credibility for EIU rankings. To me, their overall ranking and sub-rankings mean little.

But the point is I have stayed away in my post from making any commentary on ranking, and I used pure data from the schools own websites to show the comparison - nothing more or nothing less. Those statistics are what most students are interested in - because at the end of the day, that is what they will confront.

Again, let me re-iterate, the post was only a response to threads I was asked to see. I've made no conclusions, and it's left to the readers - ultimately you choose the school that best serves what you want. And that "want" can be very different for different people.

Anonymous said...

hey.. do you know when the official recruitment stats are gonna be released?


necromonger said...


Expect it in the next couple of weeks.

Mike said...

good post

Daniel said...

This was a non-contest 2 years ago.
It is a legitimate contest this year.

I will not debate the fact of Insead in Europe, but in Asia these are the 2 schools which the top applicants will be looking at.

Average student profile at HKUST used to be way sub par to Insead, but the gap has been closed radically this year.

I used to laugh when i heard HKUST and was like who/what... its getting a lot more respect and quality applications these days.

Daniel said...

People used to laugh when Insead was coupled with HKUST. Well guess what 2 years have passed and they no longer do.

These are the top 2 schools in Asia and thats where the top applicants will be going, especially after people have come to realize that CEIBS is not an option for white non-Mandarin speakers.

The biggest differential used to be the class profile, Insead used to admit people with higher scores and better work experience, but the gap is almost non existent these days.

Give it another 3 years, and this thread will really get opinionated.