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February 14, 2011 12:02 am

A profile that spans the globe

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MBA and EMBA programmes – business degrees for working executives – have been proliferating rapidly in China, mirroring the country’s economic growth.

According to Phil Wang, associate director of international exchange and public relations at the Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the number of licensed MBA and EMBA programmes in the country has increased by 50 in one year, from 182 programmes in 2009 to 232 in 2010.

In a country where the concept of business education barely existed 30 years ago, the growth in the sector can at best be called “warp-speed,” comments John van Fleet, assistant dean and executive director of the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, global EMBA programme in Shanghai.

Such a rapid growth, especially within the last decade, has meant that many of the top-tier universities in China have multiple and overlapping MBA and EMBA programmes, with various international partners.

For example, Fudan University in Shanghai offers its own MBA and EMBA programmes, in addition to joint-venture degrees from a handful of diverse international institutions including Olin Business School at Washington University in St Louis and MIT Sloan of Management. MIT also supports an international MBA programme at Tsinghua University Beijing and Lingnan (University) College at Guangzhou.

Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research runs the Beijing International MBA (BiMBA) with Belgium’s Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School. And Peking University’s business school, Guanghua School of Management, lists no fewer than seven dual-degree MBA partners from institutions as varied as the Graduate School of Business at Seoul National University, Schulich School of Business at York University, Toronto, to Essec in France.

“I think this is a China-unique
phenomenon,” says Mr van Fleet,
“It’s a response to a fast-growing
market. The Chinese universities
seek the knowledge and international perspective, while the foreign universities seek the China presence.”

Mr Wang says that initially schools in China co-operated with international institutions to learn from them.

“They had the mature MBA systems. We were so young so we didn’t know how to operate an MBA programme. But starting several years ago, we [at Antai] have changed our focus: we’re looking to co-operate with partners for a win-win situation. We have our strengths and competitive advantage in China and they have their experience.”

Antai currently offers nine different MBA programmes: its own and joint-venture programmes with five separate partners – MIT, the University of Southern California Marshall School, the Sauder School, University of British Columbia, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and EuroMed Marseille.

Many of the school’s joint programmes are taught in English, as is Antai’s iMBA programme and such programmes are proving popular with Chinese students: nearly 80 per cent of the students on the EuroMed Marseille joint-venture are either Chinese or from the Hong Kong or Taiwan areas and almost 90 per cent of Antai’s iMBA enrollees are Chinese.

A further factor making international programmes more appealing is that inflation has also reduced the price differential between local and international programmes. William Wang, associate professor and China area manager at EuroMed Marseille says that traditionally international programmes used to be 60-70 per cent more expensive, but this is no longer the case, making the joint-venture programmes more competitive cost-wise. “Chinese students increasingly want to associate with the branding of a top-tier Chinese university for their career development,” says Prof Wang.

However, Mr Wang at Antai sounds a note of caution. The China MBA education market is very competitive, he says. “Students need to consider their background; are they working for a Chinese or an international company? A Chinese company will recognise degrees from top-tier Chinese universities.”

With international universities lining up to sign on the dotted line and mainland Chinese programmes gaining in strength and in numbers, competition is only likely to increase.

“Mainland schools do not need weak partners,” says Mr van Fleet. “There are a lot of foreign business schools seeking links to China. The A-list schools in China can pick and choose whom they’d like to partner with.”

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