China Europe International Business School in Shanghai . Press image
China Europe International Business School in Shanghai symbolises the globalisation of business education in Asia

With its campus designed by I.M. Pei, European coffee and bottled water, and faculty and students drawn from around the world, Ceibs (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai symbolises the striking evolution of the globalisation of business education in Asia.

In just a few years, rapidly rising demand for MBAs and other business qualifications in the region has led to a shift from simply exporting students to business schools in the west to developing greater local offerings, often enhanced by international partnerships. Now a third phase of consolidation and the creation of satellites of Asian institutions abroad is under way.

Dipak Jain, the newly appointed European president of Ceibs, reflects the trends: brought up in a poor Indian family, he was recruited as a postgraduate to the University of Texas at Dallas, and became dean of the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago before shifting his focus back east to run first Insead and then the Sasin Institute of Business Administration in Thailand.

“My focus is on internationalisation,” he says. “In the input of high-quality students; in the throughput of the curriculum and faculty; and in the output of quality placements and alumni networks.”

Ceibs, established in 1994, may be a pioneer with its unusual legal structure as a joint venture between the Chinese government and the EU. Yet many other institutions echo Prof Jain’s message and are adopting similar tactics to boost and diversify recruitment, teaching and research.

Across Asia, rising populations, fast economic growth and higher disposable incomes have spurred a growing demand for business education, which continues to inspire many young people to travel for study in universities in Europe and North America.

But even before the recent political uncertainties and surge in populist suspicion of immigration in the US and the UK, the growth in attractive employment opportunities closer to home led to more investment in business education in Asia itself.

Singapore and Hong Kong were early providers of high-quality training with a global perspective, and have long offered places for students from the region and around the world, sometimes supported by government scholarships for those from China and beyond.

Examples include Singapore Management University, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University; and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Most are now offering Chinese as well as English language tuition in some programmes to meet growing demand from the mainland, and stepping up the focus on regional themes, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, e-commerce and the ageing population. All talk about strengthening relevant course content including case studies written locally about companies in Asia.

Both “city states” have also supported the opening of offshoots of western universities, with Insead among those establishing the Asian leg of its global MBA in Singapore. Chicago’s Booth School of Business has played into the cities’ rivalry by shifting its operations from Singapore to Hong Kong, where it is gearing up to move into a new downtown campus at the end of this year.

Singapore was long seen as an attractive hub for expatriates for multinational companies, and is positioning itself as the hub for those interested in careers in Asean countries and south-east Asia. Richard Johnson, associate dean for Booth’s executive MBA programme, says the move to Hong Kong has helped his school attract a more international student population, notably from mainland China.

But there is ever tougher competition for students between institutions in Hong Kong and the mainland. Chen Fangruo, the dean of Antai College of Economics and Management in Shanghai, freshly hired from Columbia, says: “Business schools in China now enjoy a market advantage.”

Peking University reflects the diverse and sometimes confusing options available: it offer courses including MBAs both at its Guanghua School of Management in Beijing and its HSBC Business School in Shenzhen.

Its rival, Tsinghua University, offers a dual degree with Cornell at the People’s Bank of China School of Finance and another MBA at its School of Economics and Management nearby. “The situation has changed over the past five years,” says Ya-Ru Chen, associate dean at the latter. “More and more students, if they want to find a good job and stay in China, prefer studying here.”

Not all programmes are created equal, however. Many institutions largely catering to domestic demand have no international accreditation and offer variable standards. “The Chinese market is distorted by high demand and fees with many poor quality, small commercial business schools,” says Mao Jiye, dean of Renmin University’s business school, which also offers a well-regarded MBA.

Operating in China comes with restrictions. The ministry of education limits class sizes and the ability of schools to open regional subsidiaries. The authorities oversee content and faculty promotions, and have imposed entrance exams and banned admission for employees from state-owned enterprises into executive programmes after concerns that the courses created networks that could fuel corruption.

Xiang Bing, dean of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, stresses that his institution, by contrast, is “faculty managed” and embraces values including social responsibility for the next generation of Chinese leaders.

Equally, there has been a recent pattern of less regulated corporate-run training programmes, such as Alibaba’s Global Leadership Academy. The recent decision of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, to step back from his executive role and to focus on activities including education, could lead to further innovation, although some business school professors suggest corporate training is less academically rigorous and more focused on anecdotal presentations by senior executives.

China’s business school deans are not standing still. For many, international expansion is a next step: whether through enhanced partnership with prestigious universities abroad, attracting more foreign faculty and students, or even through creating satellite operations in other countries.

Ceibs is present in Switzerland and Ghana, and CKGSB has a London office, for example. Fudan University in Shanghai is exploring options on the west coast of the US and in Australia. As China globalises, business education is not far behind.

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