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Earlier this year the Chinese government took one of its most significant steps to date in ditching old-style business and education ideology. It licensed China’s first privately owned business school to run MBA programmes.

This ultra-capitalist move was a sign if anyone doubted it, that China intends to become a world player in management education and that it will adopt US-style education policies to do so. The move comes just 14 years after the government licensed its first MBA programme.

The school in question is the Cheung Kong business school, established with money from one of China’s richest men, Li Ka-Shing, two and a half years ago. Already it has become a notable playerparticipant in the nascent Chinese market.

Bing Xiang, the dean, believes the Chinese government is using his school as a pilot. Clearly others will follow but meanwhile the school has to pioneer ways of running programmes in the traditional Chinese environment.

Those operating in The Chinese university system’s have to adopt an application procedure is very different from those in the US or Europe. Applicants can only apply to one school and instead of the GMAT test – widely used in the rest of the world – must sit a locally developed test known as GRK, which is written in Chinese.

With Prof Xiang aspiring to attract overseas students to his programme, which is taught in English, the Chinese education department has agreed that, although all MBA participants must sit the test, there is no minimum score required.

If infectious enthusiasm were all it took, then the school would already be a world leader in business education.For Prof Xiang, an accounting professor by training, is the type to persuade you that double-entry booking is as exciting as the latest Batman film. It is easy to see why Prof Xiang, an accounting professor by training, is so keen. Since its inception the Cheung Kong business school – the name means Yangzte River – has graduated its first MBA students, launched a range of executive programmes and is contemplating a doctoral degree programme. That the school has come so far so quickly, is thanks not only to in just two and a half years is a sign of not only how quickly Prof Xiang, is moving, but also to the remarkable changes happening in China and the thirst for knowledge that exists for the region.

The school’s policy is to aim big. Its executive MBA programme – an MBA for working managers – is the most expensive in China, costing Rmb288,000 ($35,500). Some 68 per cent of the participants on the programme are chief executives or directors.

Getting the right faculty is more difficult. At the moment there is just a handful of professors, but Prof Xiang intends to attract 80 faculty in the next 10 years.

As with the top traditional Chinese universities – Fudan, Peking and Tsinghua – top of the hit list are Chinese professors who have studied and taught in the US. abroad. Academic associate dean Jeongwen Chiang was a marketing professor at the University of Rochester before returning to Asia and strategy professor Ming Zeng taught at Insead, for example. Both were seduced by the idea of conducting research in China.

“You really have to be here,” says Prof Zeng. “If you are going to live in an e-world, using e-mails, it’s really not going to happen. Companies are eager to learn from you, the professors. China is changing every day.”

The EMBA alumni network managers who have been through and are currently studying on the programme - is extremely powerful, he says. “We can get into companies, we can get information not through the formal channels.”

Prof Chiang believes that only by understanding the unique way companies work in China, can productive research be carried out. One example he cites relates to measuring disposable income in China. Chinese workers have a higher disposable income than their salaries would suggest, he says, because they can claim additional allowances from the government.

Prof Xiang believes the Cheung Kong school is a bridge between western academic research and Chinese knowledge. SaysProf Chiang says: “People like myself have this view and vision. We don’t want to regurgitate what we learnt in the US.”

The school has written up to 80 case studies of local companies and the dean believes this is a significant bartering chip when negotiating with overseas business schools to run joint programmes in the region. The school is running has organised a three-week programme with Insead and the Wharton School of at the University of Pennsylvania in for March, with one week taught on each campus. and In the future Prof Xiang is hoping for more formal arrangements in future.

“The body of our knowledge is cutting edge and Our connections are getting better every day,” says Prof Xiang. “We want to look at top-ranked business schools in the US and Europe. We will be complementary to each other.”

Though Currently Housed in an office block in central Beijing, the school will get have a brand new campus by the end of 2006. This will enable it to bring its full-time MBA, currently taught in Shanghai, back to the capital. New roads planned as part of for the 2008 Olympic Games will benefit the site. The Li Ka-Shing foundation is financially committed to keeping the school afloat for 10 years, but Prof Xiang believes the school will be able to raise additional endowment funds from individuals in the next few years.

Prof Xiang believes the school has to consolidate its position in China, but does not intend to stop there. “Our ambition is to go way beyond China,” he says.

The speed at which the school is developing means that it might not take too long to realise whether this is an achievable goal.

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