China: Institutions seek a competitive edge

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When deans of Chinese business schools gathered last month, Zhongming Wang – executive dean of the school of management at Zhejiang University had news for them: the Association of MBAs, based in London, had accredited his MBA/EMBA programme.

“I’ve very happy that we’ve received Amba accreditation,” Prof Wang told the Financial Times. “This is a breakthrough and also a recognition of our education approach that focuses on local and private Chinese SMEs.”

“We approved Zhejiang’s accreditation on 11 December,” confirms Jeanette Purcell, chief executive of Amba. “Zhejiang [School of Management] is an excellent school. I’m not surprised.“

The Chinese deans from 96 business schools, who met in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, to attend a national conference on MBA education in December, did not seem surprised either. A number of leading Chinese business schools have been striving for international accreditation.

There are three leading bodies that give international accreditation – a hallmark of quality in the business education market. These are: AACSB International in the US, Equis of EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development) in Europe and Amba in Britain.

Both AACSB and Equis accredit business schools as a whole while AMBA accredits MBA programmes.

In the past two years, China’s state-run business schools have speeded up their race for international accreditation. The management schools of both Peking and Tsinghua University in Beijing have applied to AACSB according to insiders, while Antai Management School, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, has become a member of both AACSB and Equis, and Fudan University, in Shanghai, is also looking into this matter seriously.

“A number of Chinese business schools have applied for accreditation with us,” says Arthur Kraft, chair of the AACSB. “I’m very impressed by their quality.”

“We are looking at two business schools in China,” said Robert Owen, director of accreditation at Amba and one of the three assessors for Zhejiang’s MBA and EMBA programmes. “And [we have] a third in the pipeline.”

“We are talking to two Chinese business schools which have expressed a specific interest and around five to six which have expressed a general interest,” says Julio Urgel, director of quality services at Equis, who expects more and more Chinese business schools to apply for accreditation.

“My view is that one or two Chinese business schools will get accredited first,” says Prof Urgel. “Then it will accelerate. They realise that this [international accreditation] will help them compete.”

International accreditation is a hallmark of quality. It symbolises the standing of a business school on the global stage. It represents a crucial competitive edge in attracting MBA students. It can also help a business school to raise its quality during and after the accreditation process.

“We feel that there is a shift in our education philosophy,” says Prof Wang. “We are taking a more holistic and integrated approach. For example, in the past our teachers just focused on teaching and exams. Now we shall also take how they practice their knowledge and their career development into account.”

“Our aim is to be world class,” says Yimin Sun, associate dean of the management school at Fudan University. “And that’s why we’d like to achieve international recognition.”

According to Fanghua Wang, dean of Antai College of Economics and Management, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, their reason for international accreditation is to provide business education based on international standards and to pave the way for future competition in the global market.

Changqi Wu, Director for the EMBA programme at Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, shares a similar view. “Our interest is to raise standards and increase our international competitiveness,” he says. “It helps us to focus on the next stage of development in three or five years time.”

Currently, there are three types of business schools in China. First, the state-run business schools including Peking and Tsinghua; second, the private or the joint-venture schools such as Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business and Ceibs, which was the first business school in mainland China to win Equis accreditation in 2004; and third, business schools in Hong Kong.

It was back in 1979 that China resumed its business education teaching after the Cultural Revolution. It introduced MBA degree education in nine business schools with less than a hundred students in 1991. Today, there are around a hundred business schools throughout China with nearly 20,000 MBA students.

AMBA’s accreditation of Zhejiang‘s programme – the first time it has accredited a business school in mainland China – marks a milestone in China’s quest for international recognition. It is also the first time a Chinese state-run business school has received international accreditation.

When the leaders of Chinese business schools met in December to discuss MBA education, obtaining international accreditation was a high priority.

This indicates that top Chinese business schools have begun to position themselves in the global business education market.

However, they face a number of challenges. These include development of doctoral programmes, a doctoral requirement for faculty, internationalisation of faculty and students, publication of research in international journals, updating the curriculum, lack of management and finance education expertise, as well as the systematic deficiency in the Chinese state educational system.

Prof Wang believes that China faces three big challenges in its business education. These are: quality improvement; teaching of social responsibility; and the development of local business case studies.

Some international education experts worry most about the quality of China’s business education. One is Hassan Hakimian, associate dean of Cass Business School in London, who runs EMBA China – a collaboration with Bank of China and Shanghai University of Economics and Finance.

He says: “I begin to see the lowering of standards and reduction in the length of business education [programmes].”

“Chinese business schools tend to grow out of economics and mathematics, in which they have established a high reputation,” observes Mr Kraft of AACSB, which has accredited three business schools in Hong Kong and two business schools in Taiwan.

“There is nothing wrong with that. But they need to expand into other disciplines such as marketing, management, accounting and finance.”

As China’s business schools are keen to go global, international accreditation bodies are going to China.

“We are working with Tsinghua University to hold the World Class Conference for Management Education in May in Beijing,” says Mr Kraft. “The purpose is to prepare Chinese business schools better for accreditation.”

Equis is to send its representatives to five or 10 business schools in Beijing and Shanghai next year.

AMBA is planning to work with Zhejiang Management School to hold a conference in Hong Kong next November. The aim is to raise awareness of the benefits and procedures of AMBA accreditation among Chinese business schools.

Now that he has achieved AMBA recognition for his MBA/EMBA programme. The next target for Zhejiang’s Prof Wang is school accreditation. “We plan to apply to either AACSB or Equis next year.”

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