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What are the benefits of studying for an MBA in a business school in China and will it give you the edge when applying for jobs in a shrinking labour market?

On Wednesday, February 18th between 12pm and 1pm GMT, students Paolo Mulazzani and Maximilian Johnson - who are both studying at business schools in China - answered questions on this subject.

What is the recruitment process like for overseas students to gain entry into a Chinese business school?
Unknown, India

Paolo Mulazzani: At CEIBS, applicants must have a Bachelor´s Degree, a full-time work experience of two years or longer and a GMAT score or CEIBS Admission Test score. Since the classes are taught in English, proficiency in that language is required. The application must be accompanied of academic records, response to essay questions and recommendation letters. After reviewing the documentation, the MBA Admission Committee invites the selected candidates to an interview (overseas students can do it by phone). A final review of the documents and the interview results determines which applicants are invited to join the yearly intake.

Maximilian Johnson: Because this is an international program the recruitment process, I believe, is the same as for any other business school. First you sit the GMAT exam, then you mail in an application complete with references, a short essay, transcripts, language certificates (if English is not your native language). Secondly you will, I hope, be called to interview. I was interviewed by telephone with 3 or 4 professors on the line at the same time. The interviews are in December and in March.

How easy is it to get a visa to study in China?
Mike, London

Paolo Mulazzani: I am not an expert on this, so I will tell you what I did. I entered China with a tourist visa (which is extremely easy to get) and then the school helped me to obtain my residence permit. In order to do so, I had to undergo some medical tests. I know that other students entered with a student visa directly but I don’t know how long it took them to obtain it, and whether this prevented them from undergoing all the medical tests.

Maximilian Johnson: If you have been admitted to any educational institution they will provide you will all the supporting documents you need. For my visa to study at Tsinghua, I did not even have to go to the embassy in person and used a courier service. Once you arrive in China you must register your visa and they will issue a 2-year multiple entry visa.

Did you experience culture shock?

Paolo Mulazzani: Coming from India, I think I was better prepared to live in another Asian country. Besides, at school we meet Chinese friends that are used to interacting with people from overseas, therefore, our exposure to Chinese culture is gradual. Nonetheless, China is such a different country, I cannot deny that some differences exist and impact on us.

Maximilian Johnson: Personally, I didn’t experience a culture shock as I had been to China before and have also lived in Russia but I can quite easily understand why one might feel apprehension. I was fortunate that Tsinghua provided a survival guide with everything from Chinese history, culture, and practical information on where to find Western products, foods, books, and on how to find accommodation.

Is it beneficial to learn Mandarin or are all the lectures in English?

Paolo Mulazzani: All the classes are taught in English, so proficiency in Chinese is not required for the business courses. However effective from 2009, basic Chinese language competency will be compulsory for foreign students in order to improve their marketability in China. The school will provide weekly lessons and a test will be performed at the end of the program.

Maximilian Johnson: It is by no means compulsory to learn Mandarin from an academic perspective and you can graduate from the course without it. I’m sure though you would agree there are many more positives to learning the language than negatives: Building a trustful relationship with your classmates, understanding the culture better, and being able to order something more elaborate than rice in a restaurant.

Max - enjoyed reading your write-up on Tsinghua. How did you decide to go to NYU for exchange - I noticed Tsinghua also has partnerships with Yale, Kellogg, and Stanford, along with the MIT partnership. Were these programs also attractive to you?
James, Washington DC

Maximilian Johnson: Thank very much for reading it! One of the major attractions for me was the exchange program. Tsinghua is fortunate to have an extensive exchange network and a dedicated department on campus which can guide you with your choice. Naturally it is a competitive selection process but I was lucky to be able to select NYU Stern. Stern is by reputation strong in finance and I used my time in New York to network and look for employment opportunities on Wall Street (of which as you can guess there were not many!)

That said, the other universities in the US are all top schools as are the schools in Europe and Asia. Tsinghua is even willing to let students pioneer new exchange programs with new B-schools.

What is the geographical breakdown of where students come from and what do they do after completing their MBA?
James, unknown

Paolo Mulazzani: In MBA 2008 Intake, 41% of the students are from overseas. They represent 24 countries and areas in Europe, America and Asia Pacific including Argentina, Brazil USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan.

Most of the international students decide to join CEIBS in order to develop specific skills for the Asian Market. Being in China and having the opportunity to study for 18 months together with Chinese classmates allow us to better understand this market and be better prepared for future assignments in China as well as in Asia. Nonetheless it does not prevent international students to be competitive in other markets since the school provides an excellent education for any challenge ahead.

How different/ difficult is it to adjust to the Chinese mode of education?
Asad, Bangalore, India

Paolo Mulazzani: The CEIBS MBA programme is taught by its permanent faculty and visiting faculty drawn from top business schools worldwide: we have excellent Chinese professors with international background and above 60% of the faculty members are foreign professors with rich teaching experience. I do not think we have experienced a Chinese mode of education but rather a CEIBS mode of education which capitalize and combine excellent teaching experiences from West and East. Personally I found this mix a great combination for my learning.

In terms of age: do you think it is (psychologically / culturally) manageable for non Chinese students to apply for a Chinese university right after the A Levels / Baccalaureate? Or isn’t it more reasonable, and therefore possibly more efficient, to wait until one has accumulated a little bit of a first university (like Maximilian) or professional (like Paolo) experience and therefore to go to China only later, i.e. for the MBA level?
François-Xavier d’Aligny, France

Paolo Mulazzani: I definitely think that before starting any MBA experience, being it in China or elsewhere, it is important to have a certain work experience. All the learning from the MBA makes much more sense once you have already had the opportunity to be in a business environment. In fact, CEIBS (and many other MBA schools) require students to have some previous work experience.

Maximilian Johnson: Thank you very much for your questions. It is truly encouraging to know that there are organisations such as the FDEI.

I think it’s encouraging because yes I do think it’s completely manageable. In fact one of my close friends in Beijing studied at a Chinese University and had a fantastic time both academically and socially. Yes you can say it certainly built character and learning the language is by no means an easy task (I think at the undergrad level this is a must) but he did it. I would very happy to put you both in touch. He is from the UK.

Therefore it is manageable but is it acceptable? He has found it hard to apply to Cambridge for Chinese studies post BA despite having more Chinese than anyone his age at a non-native level and a grasp of modern China I aspire to.

I can only speculate that the idea of a foreigner with an undergraduate degree from China is still alien to many. This need not be the case - I say with absolute certainty that the hardest working undergraduates anywhere in the world are Chinese. They’ve been brought up surrounded by vigorous competitiveness and if you are lucky to get to Tsinghua or one of the other top schools, you literally are studying with the best of the best in China.

If you think it is possible to start in China right at the beginning of the (first) university time, how should information be provided (in Europe) to young people still going to school at this point in time? Are there means to guide them in the choice of a Chinese University, the fulfilling of the application files, etc…?
François-Xavier d’Aligny, France

Maximilian Johnson: I think the Chinese embassies in partnership perhaps with your organisation could visit high school campuses and hold open days. The guidance could come in the form as it does from Western universities; through publishing prospectuses and running websites. Newspapers could publish league tables of the best universities in China which accept foreigners.

Most importantly though, it is providing information to the parents. The young are often more open-minded than the old. My parents didn’t need convincing it was a great move. For the parents of undergrads they will be concerned about career prospects and the psychological/cultural issues. Also going to Oxford puts you in touch with much of the future UK elite. Had I gone to China there would have been the opportunity cost of meeting my UK peers.

Is there language a barrier when it comes to studying for an MBA and starting a business in China?
Subhash Koganti, London

Paolo Mulazzani: If you do not speak Mandarin, you can find an increasing number of Chinese businessmen that speak English, particularly the younger ones. Our classmates are required to speak English to be able to attend the course. Nonetheless, my impression is that the barriers that exist are not linked to the fact that we speak different languages, but rather are due to our different backgrounds and cultures.

The current recruitment market is a difficult one. Is an MBA from a Chinese business school preferable to one from the west one it comes to looking for jobs in Asia?
Unknown, UK

Paolo Mulazzani: I think that MBA students from CEIBS are better positioned than other students from other programs to work in China, so if your goal is to work in this area, I would consider the possibility of starting your experience in Asia right during the MBA.

Maximilian Johnson: I would say yes it is. As I mentioned in my article, technical skills are taught in the West and in China in the same, high-quality way.

But when you are sitting in a board room with the CEO of an Asian company, you have to realise that he/she will see things differently. If you’ve studied at a Chinese business school you will feel that invisible barrier and you will know when it’s gone. Only at that point, can you move towards a deal, not before. So you acquire a tactfulness which really cannot be taught in a classroom and that will make you more employable in Asia.

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