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Westerners flock to universities in China to advance professional chances with MBA programs
It was only the hardiest adventurers who took up the chance to learn about the mysterious East when China first opened its doors to foreign students in 1950. Now, in an age where China is an economic powerhouse, foreign students have traded their backpacks and guidebooks for a suit and tie as droves of experienced professionals are seeking admission in Chinese business schools. [Related story: The next frontier]
Driven by the huge gap in the supply of internationally trained managers five years ago, thousands of foreign students from the United States and Europe are enlisting in Chinese MBA and EMBA programs in an effort to get an edge in China's increasingly competitive global business field.
But, unlike six years ago, the focus for business schools is no longer just learning about China. The goal posts have moved as rapidly as the economic tides have shifted.
"We are no longer the 'how to do business in China' supplier, we are the 'how to manage in fast growth markets' supplier to companies on a global basis," said John Quelch, vice-president and dean of the China Europe International Business School based in Shanghai.
With China's Ministry of Education looking to attract more than 500,000 international students by 2020, the number of foreigners seeking elite MBAs akin to those obtained at internationally renowned schools like Harvard or Oxford is showing promising growth.
Leading the pack is Quelch's CEIBS. In 2009, Forbes ranked the CEIBS business MBA program as the eighth among the top 10 non-US two-year MBA programs in the world.
CEIBS has seen its percentage of foreign students almost double from 20 percent to 39 percent over the past 5 years. Other top business schools in China, like Fudan University's EMBA partnership with Washington University and Tsinghua University's MBA program with the MIT Sloan School of Management have also seen positive results.
Detailed in the National Outline for Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development (2010-20), the Chinese government is making large endeavors to educate the next line of business leaders.
Because of their efforts, Chinese business schools have gone through one of the most rapid evolutions since the first Chinese MBA programs were offered in 1991, when just 90 Chinese MBA prospects enrolled at the first nine schools offering the courses.
But in the 20 years that followed, China has managed to develop a handful of some of the top sought-after MBA programs by partnering with prestigious US and European universities to develop a curriculum that conforms with the international standards.
Among China's most recognized is Tsinghua's IMBA program, developed in 1997 through a partnership with Massachusetts-based MIT Sloan School of Management.
"We've been receiving great help from the Sloan School on developing the curriculum and training our faculty. This has built the solid foundation of our MBA program," said Qian Yingyi, director of Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management.
While the reputation of these MBA programs is often born out of partnering with Western schools, which allows universities like Tsinghua to call upon the decades of business school teaching experience shared by established institutions like MIT Sloan, Chinese business schools are drifting away from their Western foundations. Rather, they are determined to differentiate themselves by capitalizing on the nation's unique global position.
"Right now, China is being used as a global model, and understanding that model is a big advantage," the Tsinghua MBA graduate student said.
The prospect of being able to rub shoulders with China's current and future leaders is perhaps one of the biggest, but unsung, benefits for foreign students studying in China.
By graduating from Tsinghua's partnership program, Tuan said he will be able to associate with both Tsinghua and MIT Sloan's alumni network - a big advantage for someone seeking business opportunities.
"When you are doing an MBA, half of it is networking, and you want to make the network where you want to use it. That alone is a good reason to come to China," he said.
In addition to getting access to a degree and an alumni network branded with a top-notch university, many foreign students are drawn to China by the cheaper costs of living and tuition.
For international students at Tsinghua's IMBA program, tuition for the two-year program costs $29,800. If the same student were to fully enroll at MIT Sloan's MBA program in Massachusetts, the cost for tuition alone would be around $50,300. And for students who take advantage of China's cheap food and housing outside the classroom, the savings are even greater.
This means foreign students studying in China can almost halve their MBA tuition costs without having to sacrifice their brand name.