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Last month, the Financial Times ranked the China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) among the top 10 business schools in the world for the first time, alongside names such as Wharton, London Business School and Harvard Business School.
But, as is the case in many endeavours, the extraordinary performance of an individual or organisation easily eclipses underlying forces. Olympic champions such as Ma Lin, the Chinese table tennis star, or Michael Phelps, the US swimmer, take the limelight, but they are the pinnacle of a tremendous strength and depth of the entire country in their disciplines. In business, Porsche of Germany and the best wineries in France produce world-class products. But they are at the top of an entire industry in their respective country or region.
Similarly, the reality is that a group of business schools in Asia-Pacific has risen steadily in international rankings over the past six years.
In 2003, there were two business schools in the FT MBA rankings in greater China, ranked 90th and 59th respectively. By 2006, these two had risen to 21st and 47th, with none from India and south-east Asia. In 2009, four business schools in the region are ranked among the top 25: Ceibs, 8th; the Indian School of Business, 15th; Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 16th; and Nanyang Business School, 24th. In all of Asia-Pacific, there were no schools in the FT top 50 in 2003, whereas there are six in 2009.
In addition, the leading Chinese business schools, Ceibs, Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University Antai College of Economics and Management and Zhejiang University School of Management, have sought and achieved international accreditation. More than 400 Chinese management faculty have participated in Harvard-led programmes and are now building both the hardware and the software to develop management education to the highest pedagogical standards. There is thus a broad trend towards high-quality business education in Asia, among which some nations in the region stand out.
Taking China as the most relevant and successful case, three generic factors have contributed to its success.
The first is the opportunity provided by a significant catch-up situation. In the early days of the policy of reform and opening up, China faced a wide gap between the capacity to develop competent, internationally literate and responsible managerial talent and the human capital needs of the reforms. The consequence of these circumstances, which largely still exist, has been that business schools found a large market at both high and low levels.
The second factor is the openness of China’s educational environment. The Chinese authorities have allowed a wide range of approaches to be used to boost the development of the management resources required to support economic and social reforms. International universities, joint programmes, private schools, full and part-time MBA and EMBA programmes have been given the green light, at least to start and to prove themselves.
The third factor is the success and dynamism of the economic development itself. Business schools in China succeed also because they surf the incomparable wave of the dynamic, growing and innovative environment in China.
Business schools in China and in Asia at large are making genuinely new contributions to the way management is understood and taught, not only in China but internationally. Made-in-China business education, with China- relevant case studies and China-focused courses as drivers, will change both the content of business education worldwide and the competitive environment for business schools in China.
Chinese business schools appear to mirror, in their realm of management education and research, the development of China itself – from a developing nation that followed and copied others into a leading international force.
Rolf D. Cremer is dean and vice-president of China Europe International Business School