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In the past decade China has not only become a magnet for overseas university students, it has also seen the launch of a growing number of management and finance programmes in the English language.
So much so that in 2012 China was the third most popular destination for globally mobile students at higher education level, according to the Institute of International Education, the US-based, non-profit research and information body.
“China has become a global education hub,” says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counsellor to the president at IIE, adding that part of the draw has been the provision of business and management programmes in English.
“In the old days, first they had to learn Chinese,” she adds.
Attracting 8 per cent of the 4.3m world total of globally mobile students, China is snapping on the heels of the UK, which has 11 per cent of the total. The US is the most preferred destination with 19 per cent of the pie, according to the latest Project Atlas report on student mobility from the IIE.
In 2001, when the IIE first started compiling its data, China did not figure in its top eight country list.
Certainly, provision of business education in English in China appears to be accelerating. This month the Chinese University of Hong Kong will welcome the first students on its Shenzhen campus, just across the border from Hong Kong. The undergraduate students have been able to choose from programmes offered by the school of management and economics, as well as science, engineering and humanities programmes. All the students will be taught in English, and the university plans to add postgraduate management and finance programmes later. CUHK says the fledgling management school has attracted five international students in its first intake.
The Shenzhen initiative follows hot on the heels of London Business School’s announcement in June that it would team up with Fudan University in Shanghai to teach a double degree masters in management programme from September 2015. The high profile tie-up adds to Fudan’s other alliances with leading western business education providers, including MIT Sloan School of Management and the Olin Business School at Washington University in St Louis, both in the US, BI Norwegian Business School, The University of Hong Kong, Korea University Business School, and NUS Business School in Singapore.
Also in June came the news that Cornell University’s Johnson School and Tsinghua University in Beijing would be teaching a double degree MBA together. Tsinghua is known for its 17-year collaboration with MIT, and runs an Executive MBA programme with Insead, which has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
Similarly, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has just launched its first programme from its joint venture with Wuhan University in Kunshan, a city in Jiangsu province just west of Shanghai.
Duke follows early movers such as the University of Nottingham which has just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of its campus in Ningbo, a city on China’s east coast. The school’s website boasts that its masters programmes attract participants from more than 20 countries.
Other schools have also dipped their toes in the water without making a commitment to establishing a full-scale campus.
But with all this increase in English language business education provision, there are some concerns about the quality and content of what is being taught and questions about its long-term impact.
“Foreign schools could risk diluting their brand value,” says Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Guanghua School of Management at Peking University. He says some prestigious schools are setting up shop in a manner not unlike how a French fashion label might open a boutique in a wealthy area of Beijing or Shanghai.
Mike Bastin, visiting professor at China’s University of International Business and Economics and senior lecturer at Southampton Solent’s School of Business in the UK, also thinks some overseas schools should be adopting a more strategic, long-term view and targeting second- and third-tier cities.
Prof Bastin, who has taught in China since the 1990s, says overseas business schools have a particular advantage. “In China, there’s a high value placed on education – especially on business education – but there’s a deep distrust of Chinese provision,” he says.
Ceibs in Shanghai, which is ranked 17th in the FT Global MBA 2014 ranking, attracts large numbers of international students. Established in 1994 as a joint venture between the Chinese government and the European Commission, the autonomous school is also able to pick from among the best Chinese applicants.
“China is becoming more and more part of the world economy and the need for ambitious individuals to communicate with the outside world is increasing,” says Hellmut Schütte, dean of Ceibs. He says China needs the international business education that it is now trying to encourage and that it benefits both overseas and local Chinese students to have that education provided in English.
“Foreign participants bring the urgently needed cross-cultural dimension into the classroom,” he says, adding that Chinese is not a language students can learn in a few months.
However, the rapid opening of China’s education system to foreign influence could bring its own dynamic, Prof Pettis points out. “The question is,” he says, “can you centralise political power while decentralising economic power?”
For Prof Bastin, the answer could be interesting. “You can’t have the sort of education system we have in the west without political change,” he says.