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Learning the Chinese way

Published on Friday, 31 Aug 2012
CEIBS’s multinational MBA students at the university’s sprawling campus in Shanghai.
Photo: CEIBS
Chen Shimin
Photo: CEIBS

Business schools in mainland China are a relatively new concept, but their numbers have grown exponentially in recent years. According to the China Education Centre, the first MBA programmes were launched just over 20 years ago. In 1991, there were only nine run in the entire country. By 2011, there were 236.

This is not to say that someone wanting to pursue an MBA in the world’s second largest economy is spoiled for choice. Most of these programmes would not pass muster internationally. Only a handful would be up to global standards and few would attract a significant number of students from Hong Kong or overseas.

But there are exceptions.

The China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) was established in 1994. With an impressive free-standing campus in Shanghai, it is generally recognised as the country’s leading provider of MBAs. It offers both full- and part-time programmes as well as an Executive MBA, executive education programmes and a soon-to-be-launched PhD course in partnership with a Spanish university. CEIBS is routinely ranked as one of the world’s top business schools.

Among the other business schools to have gained an international reputation for excellence in recent years are, in Beijing, the Tsinghua School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University, the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, the School of Business at Renmin University of China, and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business; in Shanghai, the Fudan School of Management at Fudan University, the Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Hult International Business School; and in Guangzhou, the Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University and the Jinan University School of Management.

Some of these business schools have forged partnerships with foreign universities. The international MBA programmes offered by Tsinghua University, Fudan University and Sun Yat-sen University, for example, are collaborative efforts with the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

The international MBA offered by Peking University is a partnership with business schools in Canada, France, Singapore and the US. International MBAs are generally taught in English.

Some foreign-based business schools are setting up branches in the mainland. US-based Hult International Business School, for example, added a Shanghai campus in 2003.
Some business schools in Hong Kong, meanwhile, are launching initiatives on the mainland, usually in conjunction with universities.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has partnered with Peking University to offer a part-time MBA programme in Shenzhen. The University of Hong Kong and Fudan University jointly offer a part-time MBA in Shanghai.

Founded by Hong Kong business tycoon Li Ka-shing, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business is China’s first private, non-profit, independent business school. Headquartered in Beijing, it also has campuses in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

With China’s booming economy, does it make sense to pursue an MBA on the mainland, or are Hong Kong business schools, which increasingly offer programmes with substantial China content, the better option?

Anyone seeking access to the world’s largest potential market, a greater understanding of Chinese business or a chance to build a solid network with alumni and corporations in China and Asia should consider doing an MBA in China, says Professor Chen Shimin, associate dean and academic director of MBA programmes at CEIBS in Shanghai.

“An MBA in China is an excellent way to jump-start a career or provide that competitive edge that comes from being able to operate effectively in both the East and West. It’s simply a better ROI [return on investment],” he says.

Still, many students wanting a career in China, or hoping to do business with Chinese firms, prefer the greater amount of academic freedom that exists in Hong Kong – as well as the city’s more cosmopolitan lifestyle and international connections.

For this reason, they choose Hong Kong business schools, a growing number of which are offering programmes with a China focus. Since these programmes are attracting a growing number of participants from the mainland, attendees can still build that network of Chinese contacts that is increasingly coveted by aspiring executives.

“Many MBA graduates have given feedback to us that they prefer to do an MBA in Hong Kong rather than on the mainland,” says Roger Levermore, visiting associate professor and interim director for MBA programmes at HKUST.

“Students are attracted to studying for an MBA in Hong Kong because not only is it a part of China, with close connections to the mainland, but it is also very strongly connected to the rest of the world. Students are attracted by the city being the world’s third most competitive global financial centre and number one IPO centre. Students from around the world also say that they find it easy to adapt to the life here,” he says.

Hong Kong offers students the best of both worlds – a link between the East and the West.

“Doing an MBA in Hong Kong helps further the aims of multinational companies of developing trade and opportunities in mainland China,” Levermore says. “Yet Hong Kong is also in the unique position of assisting Chinese companies to ‘go global’. In short, doing an MBA in Hong Kong not only allows students to learn about the business culture in mainland China and build connections there, but it also provides wide cultural perspectives and opportunities.”


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