Country profile: China's flourishing field

Before Lenovo took over the personal computer business of IBM last year, 97% of its sales and all its employees were in China. Overnight, the company found itself with 10,000 employees outside its home country, a huge management challenge. Situations such as these are likely to be repeated many times over in the future, which is precisely why business education in China is a flourishing field.

by World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

There are currently more than 16,000 students in China enrolled on some 230 MBA programmes. The quality varies, but a few schools have distinguished themselves over recent years (see rankings), particularly those associated with well-respected universities such as Tsinghua or Beijing University.

The striking thing about business education in China, however, is the omnipresence of western business schools and courses. Most Chinese schools have extensive alliance networks and arrangements vary from joint degrees to support for faculty. MIT Sloan School of Management, for instance, lends its name to three international MBA (IMBA) programmes at Tsinghua, Fudan and Lingnan (Zhongshan University). It also provides support to Yunnan University's MBA.

Most of MIT's work, however, has been in training Chinese faculty, and staff from its partner schools spend a semester at the US campus to work on their teaching skills. Alan White, dean of MIT, says this is an opportunity for them to develop their curriculum, teaching methods and course material. "It's something they never have the chance to do in China. They're just too busy teaching."

There is an urgent need to develop relevant Chinese material. A survey of MBA students in China by BusinessWeek found that nearly a third thought that their school was only good to average at teaching China-specific business. Chinese case studies, in particular, are scarce, and so MIT provides placements for Chinese faculty to work with Harvard Business School - pioneer of the case method - on case writing and teaching.

Chinese business schools have also focused mainly on teaching rather than research, creating a dearth of Chinese professorial faculty. Jonathan di Rollo, executive director of the China MBA Guides, notes, however, that there has been an increase in DBAs (PhDs), which should, ultimately, plug the gap.

Despite these shortcomings, management education in China meets high standards. Top schools boast average GMAT scores on a par with the US's Ivy League, and schools such as CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) now beat most of their Western counterparts in international rankings (CEIBS ranks 21st in the FT MBA 2006 ranking).

But international participation is still low, CEIBS being the exception with 30% of its 2006 MBA intake from outside China. INSEAD and Tsinghua's recently launched dual degree programme will also have a 50:50 quota of Chinese and international students. Part of the problem is language: most schools offer some teaching in English - and some, such as Lingnan, all of it - but otherwise it is in Mandarin.

Besides, the brand recognition of Chinese MBAs is still low. "If you had the choice between China, or Europe and the US, which would you choose?" asks Helmut Schutte, dean of INSEAD's Asia campus. "There's still an issue of quality."

EMBAs are increasingly popular in China. In a country where the pace of change is restlessly fast, the opportunity cost of taking a two-year career break to do an MBA is huge. Fees are also expensive: UBC's MBA at Jiao Tong University costs a whopping Rmb228,000 ($28,000), a colossal sum for China. Students often borrow heavily from their family, so part-time courses offer a sensible alternative.

EMBAs also attract the creme de la creme of Chinese executives. Rolf Cremer, dean of CEIBS, points out that most executives in their 40s would have finished their education at a time when little attention was given to management skills. Those who have made it to the top tend to be exceptional leaders and businessmen. "One should not forget that the people who are in management today come from the planned economy," says Schutte. "And to take things forward, they'll need to understand how to manage their people and market themselves abroad."

"We have no interest in teaching management in China," he continues. "They know best. What we want to teach is the international challenges they will face."

Ranked in terms of value; ie, return on investment four years after
1. CEIBS (Shanghai)
2. BiMBA (Beijing)
3. Lingnan College, Zhongshan (Sun Yat-Sen) University (Guangzhou)
4. Tsinghua School of Economics and Management (Beijing)
5. Guanghua School of Management, Beijing University (Beijing)
6. Fudan School of Management (Shanghai)
7. Nankai University International Business School (Tianjin)
8. Xiamen University School of Management (Xiamen)
9. Renmin Business School, Renmin University of China (Beijing)
10. Antai School of Management, Jiao Tong University (Shanghai)
Source: Forbes China, April 2006

Ranked in terms of value; ie, return on investment four years after
1. BiMBA (Beijing)
2. Antai School of Management, Jiao Tong University
3. Guanghua School of Management, Beijing University
4. Fudan School of Management (Shanghai)
5. Tsinghua School of Economics and Management (Beijing)
6. Nankai University International Business School (Tianjin)
7. Nanjing University Business School (Nanjing)
8. Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (Shanghai)
9. Lingnan College, Zhongshan (Sun Yat-Sen) University (Guangzhou)
10. Zhongshan University Management School (Guangzhou)
Source: Forbes China, April 2006


A fake drug kills nine people; 57 miners are trapped after a mine collapsed because it was operating at 10 times its legal capacity; the dean of a prestigious university is sacked for faking an invention. The news in China is full of stories involving poor business ethics and their often disastrous consequences. Chinese business schools have a tough job teaching students that ethics is paramount to successful business. Many observers say that the temptation to make a quick buck in China's booming economy, whatever the circumstances, is still widespread.

This is what professors such as Henri-Claude de Bettignies, Aviva chaired professor of leadership and responsibility at INSEAD and distinguished professor of global responsible leadership at CEIBS, are up against. "Teaching business ethics is an oxymoron," says de Bettignies. "Faculty don't give a damn about it. They always find an excuse not to get involved: 'I don't know how to do it' or 'I don't have the qualifications'."

To capture his students' attention, de Bettignies uses the news and the morning newspapers in class. "I have to give them something tangible, otherwise I lose them. And there are always stories of corruption, pollution or a building collapsing because of poor regulation." Once they become aware of the issues, de Bettignies says that students then start discussing how to approach the problems; for example, being asked by their boss to do something against their principles. "My course is about dilemmas," he says. "It's about thinking for yourself."

This is even truer at EMBA level, where students are more experienced and have a better grasp of the implications of business ethics. Leigh Hafrey, senior lecturer in business ethics at MIT and who also teaches ethics on MIT's Chinese IMBAs, says that debates are often richer and better. "Many realise that there are frameworks that apply to both East and West."

Both he and de Bettignies try to integrate traditional Chinese values with Western ideas of business ethics. "I ask my students what it means to be a Confucian society in the 21st century," says Hafrey. He also uses popular culture - films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - to initiate debate.

Business ethics is now a compulsory subject in many MBA programmes, and Chinese faculty are also beginning to teach ethics-related subjects, such as corporate governance, CSR and sustainable development. "Business ethics is important everywhere," says de Bettignies, "but in China, the needs are huge. The sense of responsibility has a long way to go, which is why I am so busy."

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