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According to the annual Global Competitiveness Report, produced by the Global Benchmarking Network, which assesses the competitiveness of 144 national economies, China has slipped three places in the ranking to 29th.
The report assesses various aspects of competitiveness. But while China does continue to do well in many areas, key reasons for its decline appear to lie behind a relatively poor performance in the areas of higher education and training and technological readiness. In higher education and training, China is now ranked 68th but its deterioration is most pronounced in the area of technological readiness where this year it has slipped to 88th in the ranking.
China’s higher education system, and its business education in particular, continue to produce record enrolment figures. However, the report challenges the quality of the education provided, especially at China’s business schools. Worryingly, the report points to a clear disconnection between education content and business needs.
It is this apparent yawning gap between the country’s business education and training and its business needs that has to be addressed as a priority.
Here are three initiatives that are key to any much-needed improvement:
Firstly, take all forms of business education and training inside Chinese companies. Such an initiative, by universities and/or corporate training providers, would surely be the quickest way to understand the particular needs of Chinese business and establish a firm link with any education and training provided.
In-company business education and training, whether taking place inside the company or involving education and training programmes tailored specifically to an organisation’s business needs, is nothing new outside China, but remains a rarity across mainland China’s business landscape.
Secondly, business education and training at Chinese universities could contribute more to the needs of Chinese business with far more integration with international business schools and overseas business training organisations.
Presently, too many leading international business schools, especially US schools, simply seek to use “exchanges” and “agreements” with Chinese business schools to attract Chinese students overseas and reap a considerable income in fees and additional charges. The Chinese government could do more here and force a more genuine mutually beneficial partnership. For example, talented international business and management academics could be offered better incentives to work at Chinese schools for longer periods of time, rather than fly in for a month or two to deliver one course, often on their own, before promptly flying out once again.
Thirdly, the Chinese government’s role is crucial if China’s higher education and training sector is to meet the changing needs of China’s business base. Business, especially business education and training, works best when governments take a definite laisser-faire approach but still offer incentives to foster engagement between business and business education providers. Sadly, the current Chinese leaders remain wedded to the “party knows best” mantra of old. Furthermore, recent comments by China’s apparent incoming leader indicate continued state involvement in higher education across China. The Chinese government should step back from such a position and allow a more pragmatic partnership between Chinese business and China’s business schools where the ongoing, evolving needs and challenges facing Chinese industry drive the provision of business and management education and training.
For example, Chinese business schools could be relieved of the burden of the party representative who sits on their management committee, often with more power than the dean. Party representatives could be replaced with a business representative whose sole task would be to monitor and anticipate Chinese business education and training needs and feed such knowledge into the teaching and training provision of each Chinese business school.
A country’s competitive industry, and its business and management education and training sector, should be a harmonious marriage where business education adapts itself to industry’s changing business and management needs. At present in China, the business community and the business education sector are not even on first-name terms.
Mike Bastin is a researcher at Nottingham university’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, specialising in Chinese consumer and organisational behaviour