In China, prestigious students line up to learn

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

A flick through the list of participants on the Cheung Kong executive MBA programme in Beijing reveals some rather impressive people. The names of several of the course participants can also be found in another publication, that of the Forbes list of the richest people in China.

It is hard to imagine in any other country that the top dogs of the biggest corporates would return to business school to study for an MBA. But this is China.

Cheung Kong, China’s first government-approved privately-funded business school, is not alone in attracting such prestigious students. At Tsinghua University in Beijing 55 per cent of the participants on its EMBA are also chairmen or chief executives of their companies.

The EMBA in China attracts the sort of participants that you would expect to find on an advanced management programme in a US or European business school, with participants already having an average 15 years of work experience under their belts, explains Chen Guoqing, deputy dean at Tsinghua. Until 1981 there was no degree system in China, he says. “So, a lot of people are very keen to get a degree, even top CEOs.”

It is a similar story at Tsinghua’s Beijing rival, Peking University. There 80 per cent of those enrolled on the EMBA at Bimba, the international offshoot of the university, are executives, presidents or vice presidents, says Lucy Liu, deputy director of admissions. One-third of those come from state-owned enterprises with a third from Chinese privately-owned companies and the rest from non-Chinese companies.

There are more than 50 EMBA programmes in China, according to the recently published Top EMBA for Executives in China*, and there are more than 6,000 executives enrolled on those programmes, says the guide.

The maturity of these senior course participants means that most of them cannot speak English, unlike their younger counterparts on full-time MBA programmes. Therefore, almost all EMBA programmes in China are taught in Chinese. At schools such as the China Europe International Business School (Ceibs), in Shanghai, which has a strong cohort of US and European faculty, the programme is taught with the aid of translators in the classroom.

A similar situation exists at Fudan University in Shanghai, which runs a joint EMBA programme with the Olin school of business at Washington University in St Louis – taught in English – in addition its own EMBA programme – taught in Chinese.

A second Shanghai programme is taught in English has been developed by London’s Cass school of business at City University, in conjunction with the Bank of China and the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. There are now 50 participants going through this programme which was set up by Liu Ming Kang, a former Cass MBA student, when he was president of the Bank of China – these days he is in charge of the future of China’s banking system as president of the China Banking Regulatory Commission.

Hassan Hakiman, associate dean of the Cass China EMBA programme, believes the quality of the students and the teaching on the programme is as good as any programme Cass teaches in London. “The international depth and breadth of the programme is not compromised by the local market,” he says.

Professors from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics teach 30 per cent of the workshops on the programme, but all those involved have been trained at Cass in London. At both Tsinghua and Fudan faculty have spent considerable time learning how to teach in the US style by MIT’s Sloan school of management, which has run courses for Chinese faculty for nearly a decade.

Professors from Tsinghua, Fudan and Ceibs also attend courses at Harvard Business School to learn how to teach using case studies.

Prof Hakiman says the size of the Chinese population makes people believe there is a huge market for international programmes, but that the language is a true barrier. “The irony is that those for whom the [Cass] EMBA would be effective have no access to it.”

Executive MBAs are very much a win/win proposition for local business schools in the region, as they can use their contacts to get access to corporations at the highest level. At Cheung Kong, for example, Ming Zeng, academic director, says the programme gives him and other faculty real access to what is happening inside China’s top companies. “We have a learning interface with the very elite of Chinese business. We learn from them, they learn from us. The interchange is wonderful.”

In the next few years Cheung Kong hopes to have between 200 and 300 executives enrolling every year.

The Chinese business schools can also make money. Three US schools working with local partners, the Marshall school at the University of Southern California, the Olin school at Washington University and the University of Maryland, all charge more than 300,000 renminbi ($37,000) for their EMBA programmes, according to the Top EMBA for Executives in China guide – a veritable fortune by most Chinese standards.

But those that graduate from the programmes show a marked return on investment. Those that graduated from Ceibs three years ago now earn an average 500,000 renminbi. Using purchasing power parity rates (rather than exchange rates) to calculate these salaries gives an average salary of $260,000.

Ceibs charges 268,000 renminbi for its programme, which means that three years after graduation its alumni are receiving an annual salary double the course fees. This compares directly with the fee/salary ratio experienced by graduates from the top US schools, such as the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia in New York.

*Top EMBA for Executives in China, published by Shanghai Pictorial Press

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.