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Cherie Scricca often feels more like a logistics officer than associate dean at the Marshall School of Business.

With the school’s executive education sites in Los Angeles, Shanghai and San Diego and the same faculty teaching at all of them, she is constantly worrying about whether they are in the right place at the right time.

For the past three years, the LA-based Marshall school, which is part of the University of Southern California, has been teaching a global executive MBA in Shanghai in addition to its programme in the US, where the San Diego campus opened a year ago.

The global approach is not limited to the school’s global EMBA. Marshall requires all MBA students – full-time or part-time – to spend time outside the country in which their degree is being taught.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m just scheduling,” says Ms Scricca. “The faculty fly over to Shanghai and teach for five days in a row every three to four weeks, then they teach the executive programme here in LA once a week. In San Diego we have to do it every other week for two days, back to back, to be able to get the same faculty to each location.”

Behind such logistical headaches is a philosophy towards business education that the school sees as one of its competitive advantages – a thematic approach to teaching.

In both the US-based EMBA and the global EMBA taught from Shanghai the focus is general management, with no slant toward any particular area.

But while full-time MBA programmes structure their courses around disciplines such as finance, accounting and marketing, Marshall believes a more appropriate approach for executives is to use one business issue or problem as a lens through which to view the various business disciplines.

“Mainstream MBA students are interested in how to solve a problem, whereas the EMBA is very much structured on how to ask the right questions and how to incorporate different kinds of tools to make the best decisions,” says Ms Scricca.

As a result, any given class may have several faculty members with expertise in different disciplines teaching at the same time, or at least back to back, with one professor referring constantly to what was taught in the previous session.

This also means that the faculty needs to work very closely when developing course content, which is why the same teams of professors deliver all the school’s classes. It is simply too difficult to insert a practitioner or adjunct professor into the collaborative teaching process, she says.

Practicing business people are invited to deliver seminars or lectures that supplement the core teaching – something the school wants to expand, particularly in Asia. And in China Marshall has a partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University to teach its global EMBA. Because of the thematic approach, however, it is Marshall academics that teach the main content of the programme.

This prompts the question, why Shanghai – particularly since the students of the global EMBA currently represent roughly a dozen countries, with only a handful of them from mainland China.

Physical location, it turns out, is a powerful force in business education. “It’s in part why they bond in that programme so quickly,” she says. “Because they’re all somewhere strange and different … and people want to be face to face in an environment that they’re not used to being in.”

The other attraction of Shanghai for business school students is China’s rapid change and dramatic economic expansion.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if China continues to be a popular destination,” says Ms Scricca. “Students want examples and discussion that involves not just what’s happening in Shanghai but what’s happening in Beijing and Tokyo – so the challenge is to incorporate this Asian phenomenon into the experience.”

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