China Business schools Go Off the Beaten Track

WITH THE business world growing ever more global, business schools are looking to diversify in terms of international reach as well as the courses and curricula offered. The landscape of executive education is slowly shifting, with courses of study featuring more entrepreneur-focused electives and increased numbers of female applicants.

Comprehensive Education

The benefits of studying for an MBA or EMBA are manifold, and include significant career-boosting opportunities, access to a wide network of contacts, and the character-building that comes with studying intensively for a demanding qualification.

John D. Van Fleet, Assistant Dean and Executive Director of USC Marshall’s Global Executive MBA in Shanghai (GEMBA), partnered with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, explains the draw of business school programmes for those looking to move forward in their careers: “Any business education programme offers a potential return on investment via the actual content of the course (curriculum, faculty and fellow students’ academic interactions), the brand of the host institutions,and the lifetime network that students and graduates gain. It’s intuitive that a systematic, foundational approach to studying business at the executive level should provide business leaders with incrementally more ability to lead their enterprises.”

The USC-SJTU GEMBA programme has witnessed a steady increase in the number of students enrolling in such programmes, further proving that these programmes are perceived as offering immense value. Graduate feedback also attests to the efficacy and importance of the courses. “At USC Marshall, the course content has proven to be ‘rocket fuel’ for the careers of our students and graduates,” adds Van Fleet.

INSEAD’s Associate Director Marketing and Communications, Degree Programmes, Gopika Spaenle, agrees that in an increasingly global and complex world, MBA and EMBA degrees have become more useful in navigating cultures. “Having business skills in an international setting is very important. In terms of running your own company or being in a senior management role, they are more necessary than ever before,” she says. With its 10-month, full-time programme or part time, global executive degree programme, INSEAD offers an intensive and convenient way to achieve an MBA, and its forthcoming Master of Finance degree will add diversity to the curriculum.

The AEMBA (Antai-Euromed Management) Programme, a joint programme of Euromed Management (France) together with Shanghai Jiaotong University, offers a small portfolio of two courses. One is a part-time MBA – identical to its programme offered in France – that can be completed in Shanghai, Marseilles or both. The other is an EMBA that results in a dual degree from Jiaotong University and Euromed Management. According to Michel Gusatz, director of the programme, the most attractive aspects of executive education are threefold. The first is an increase in salary over the three years after completion. “This career boost is essential in China; if you come on the market with an MBA, you will immediately get a new job and a salary increase.” Secondly, the process of studying for an MBA can be lengthy, often chaotic and exhausting, but has a reinvigorating effect. “Our alumni often report that their MBA has been a turning point in their careers and lives in general,” says Gusatz. The third benefit involves opportunities for widening one’s network. Last April, the AEMBA Programme brought ten students from Marseilles to China for an international seminar and gave them the chance to meet professionals in their fields of specialisation. The programme also arranged meetings between these ten students and its 700-strong alumni body.

The Sir John Cass Business School of City University London, which offers an EMBA programme in Dubai, bears witness to the ever-growing popularity of business education. Ehsan Razavizadeh, Regional Director of MENA and head of the Dubai Centre, also believes that enrolling in an EMBA course will elevate one’s career in a myriad of ways. “Whatever the motivation, the intense leadership development, greater strategic vision and immediately applicable skills that are the hallmarks of an EMBA programme will all help individuals to fulfil their long-term career goals. The intellectual stimulation that one can get from being in a classroom full of students from diverse backgrounds should not be underestimated.”

In general, one of, the key advantages of an MBA or EMBA is often seen as the opportunity they offer students to develop greater connections, or guanxi, for when the students re-enter the workforce. Razavizadeh agrees that forming relationships is indeed a core element in the MBA or EMBA experience, stating, “There is the opportunity to build a network and circle of classmates and alumni who will remain your friends, advisors and mentors for life.”

Theory vs. Practice

As the business world increases in complexity, the importance of balancing theoretical learning with practical case studies and examples has also grown. The curriculum of the AEMBA Programme aims to achieve this balance. “These days, you can’t just teach at the executive level on theory alone. You have to include the added dimensions of case studies,” says Michel Gusatz. He notes that Chinese students want to be taught by top professors but also seek hands-on knowledge of the business world. “Theory, on its own, is not adequate, but it becomes viewed with greater respect when it is taught alongside real-life cases which are applicable to students’ own work experiences,” Gusatz states.

The Part-time Finance MBA Programme at the China Europe International Business School is another example of mixing practical applications of business cases with theory. The FMBA programme curriculum is designed to incorporate both theoretical and practical approaches, with students engaging in case studies and discussion in the classroom and participating in group projects outside of school hours. Students are taught by renowned professors in finance, economics and accounting. “These seasoned experts integrate state-of-the-art management theory with Chinese business practices for the benefit of students, who also gain exposure to heads of industry that we invite to the classroom to share their experiences,” says Zhao Xinge, Associate Dean and Director of the Part-time Finance MBA Programme.

A distinct difference between MBA and EMBA curricula, according to van Fleet, is that quality EMBA programmes should have “substantial focus on strategic considerations and practical applications.” Students of the latter, who already possess years of business experience, do not need to explore the more elemental aspects of business that regular MBA students in their mid-20s might require.

A mix of theory and practice is integral to the executive education courses offered by the Manchester Business School (MBS), which has centres in Shanghai as well as in Manchester, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil and Miami. The school offers a Global MBA and an accelerated MBA, both with a practical focus. “Original thinking is useless if you can’t apply it in the workplace,” says Professor Michael Luger, Dean and Director of Manchester Business School. “At MBS we believe in learning by doing, so group and individual projects underpin all of our courses, helping students to put their learning into practice.”

Fu’s belief in the focus on applied business knowledge is shared by Peter Uvin, Academic Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts, US. The Fletcher School works with CEIBS in Shanghai on a dual-degree programme, offering students a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the US institution along with the MBA from CEIBS. Both schools adhere to providing a very practical approach to business in an international atmosphere.

Language requirements also enhance the learning experience and graduates’ qualifications. All students receiving degrees from The Fletcher School must speak a second language sufficiently well to exchange ideas in conversation with a native speaker, and must be able to read and restate into English primary materials on contemporary topics involving foreign affairs.

The Right Mix

The demographic makeup of a business school’s enrolment bears witness to the changing status of executive education. This year’s intake at CEIBS includes students from over 21 countries, with 36 per cent of the 2012 MBA class coming from abroad and the rest from mainland China. Four of the top countries represented are India, Korea, the US, and Spain. “With the current weakness in European markets, our goal is to target new markets in developing countries,” says Associate Dean and Academic Director of the MBA Programme, Chen Shimin. “Many of these are high-growth markets where we have historically had minimal presence, but where we now see great potential for Asian schools such as CEIBS.”

At AEMBA programme, the average student age is 35 for the part-time MBA and 40 for the executive MBA. It is mainly middle to top managers who take the part-time MBA course, while the EMBA is pursued by business owners and entrepreneurs. For the latter, intake is mainly local, with just 20 to 30 per cent of students hailing from out of China. With regard to gender statistics, AEMBA’s Gusatz says his programme attracts an “impressive” number of female applicants, compared to the European campus. “Our intake is between 40 and 50 per cent female, which is unheard of in Europe,” he says.

In the USC-SJTU GEMBA programme, the student body demographic averages are 30 per cent female, 38 years of age an 15 years of work experience. The student profile also shows strong diversity. “Typically, class members hold about a dozen different passports. Around 25 per cent are PRC citizens, and the rest are from other countries and regions,” says Van Fleet.

Popular Disciplines

Among the most significant emerging trends in executive education is the pursuit of entrepreneurship. The Manchester Business School has seen a surge in demand for its entrepreneurial courses, and while its Global MBA focuses on general management and has streams in finance, engineering and project management, there is a strong emphasis placed on training international entrepreneurs. Sherry Fu, director of the MBS China centre, says students at MBS are encouraged to show leadership throughout the programme.

Similar trends are observed at CEIBS, where courses in entrepreneurship are attracting interest and gaining popularity. Students are offered both core and elective courses that prepare them for launching and successfully running their own businesses. CEIBS also provides a variety of programmes to help support aspiring entrepreneurs. These include incubation training for seed-stage companies, angel and fund-raising forums, in-house VC funds (such as the HGI-Finaves China and the CEIBS-Chengwei Venture Capital funds), networking events and an entrepreneurship club.

The two main trends witnessed at The Fletcher School in recent years are not surprising, according to Uvin. The first is an increased interest in courses related to the various dimensions of conflict (conflict resolution, terrorism and war, complex emergencies; law of war and peacekeeping); the second is a growth in demand for business courses, rather than the traditional law and diplomacy courses offered. “We have noticed increased interest in business since the 2008-2009 financial crisis,” says Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean of International Business and Finance. “A growing dissatisfaction with the job market and with the financial services sector, and perhaps a generational shift, have led more students to want to ‘do well while doing good.’” Increasingly, business schools are attempting to inject inclusive growth and social change into their curricula.

At the business school at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, the most popular programmes are Finance, Accounting and Management, but Dean Carl Fey notes that, “Across all our programmes, there is an increasing interest in the areas of Corporate Social Responsibility and Business Ethics.” In an ever-maturing global business environment, the focus is switching from unbridled capitalism to a more people-focused perspective on company and corporate strategy.

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