China’s public sector in need of business education

Planned reforms of the country’s public services will only succeed if they are supported by a training culture

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

In a significant reform move, China is set to reshape its government-funded public institutions to improve the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of public services.

The Chinese government recently issued blueprints for the reform that will affect more than 40m public sector staff currently working in approximately 1.26m government-run public institutions across the country such as schools, hospitals, publishing houses and the agriculture and forestry sectors.

However, nowhere in these reforms is there a single mention of the need for business and management education to effect permanent and lasting change. This is probably due, at least in part, to China’s long history in which a task-oriented, conservative and autocratic work culture has dominated throughout and empowerment has rarely featured.

Any reorganisation across China’s public sector will not automatically yield a more market-oriented, customer-friendly and cost-effective service. The root cause of the problems can be found in the lack of education and training in modern business and management methods.

The answer is not some sort of “high speed”, “off-the-shelf”, “one-off” re-training for many managers across China’s public sector. What is needed is a long-term business and management education training programme, tailored to the specific needs of each public sector industry. For example, health services are people-oriented and require education and training in people management and communication skills. Agriculture and forestry, on the other hand, require education and training in modern technology and efficient supply chain management methods.

The scheduling of any such training programmes is also key to any improvement with an initial short, “burst” followed by a long-term “drip” of training provision lasting several years. It is also important to do things differently with a suitable mix of Chinese and western training experts involved at all times. Too few Chinese trainers will create confusion and tension, however too few western experts may lead to a feeling that nothing is particularly new and no real change is required.

Furthermore, to deliver training that is really tailored to the needs of Chinese consumers, a blend of Chinese and western methods is needed. Chinese consumers have become more demanding and will only be satisfied with higher quality standards and more efficient service delivery, aspects that western methods are used to supplying.

There is a growing, global clamour for more “responsible” management and China’s public companies need to recognise and respond to this. Once again this is where the sector could benefit from business education. Indeed, China’s public sector need look no further than the third global event hosted by the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Management Education initiative due to take place in Rio De Janeiro in June.

China’s public sector reform will only succeed if it is supported by an education and training culture that transcends the entire public sector. Education and training, often viewed by Chinese managers as an unnecessary cost or at best a necessary evil, needs to be seen as the key to long-term progress and success.

China’s economic miracle is at a crossroads right now and public sector reform is one of the key challenges facing further progress. Long-lasting education and training-led reform is the way forward with no time to lose.

Mike Bastin is a visiting academic at Tsinghua University and researcher at Nottingham University’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

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.