Chinese MBA Programs Becoming More Competitive and Attractive

Chinese university students in caps and gowns during a graduation ceremony.

Chinese university students in caps and gowns during a graduation ceremony.

The current educational climate in China is somewhat contentious, as most chinaSMACK readers know all too well. However, what the country may be getting wrong at the primary school level it seems to be getting right when it comes to graduate school, and its business schools may soon become dominant global players.

In recent years, the market for MBA graduates has become increasingly competitive. From 1970 to 2009, the number of master’s of business administration degrees awarded annually by US schools has grown from 26,000 to 168,000. As emerging economies throughout the globe continue to develop as well, a degree from a top-ranked MBA program has become vital in order to compete for top management and executive positions. However, as business schools throughout Asia grow in stature, ambitious and intelligent aspiring business students may reconsider their ideas regarding which MBA programs offer the greatest opportunities for success.

Consistently, graduates from the highest ranked MBA programs command large salaries with their degrees and greatly increase their potential for landing the most sought after jobs.Though often notably more expensive than their lower-ranked peers, the Forbes 2011 rankings show that the typical investment in one of the top 50 business schools, including tuition and forgone salary, is typically paid back in about 3.5 years. Forbes reports that graduates of their five top-ranked MBA programs in 2009 typically earn more than $200,000 within five years after graduating.

A 2012 survey of business professionals found that 87% had attended business school, and determined Stanford, Harvard and Wharton to be the best options for aspiring MBA students. 43% of respondents listed the network of contacts as the most important advantage of a quality business school, while 34% named skills and knowledge acquired; 23% listed the value of the brand as a strong advantage. While the top-ranked business schools have traditionally been American institutions, respondents to the survey suggested a number of international schools be included in 2013’s rankings, including The University of Hong Kong. To many experts, China’s rapidly growing economy suggests the country may soon find global recognition for its increasingly valuable MBA programs.

A lecture at a Chinese business school.

In 2012, the US intelligence community conceded that the country’s standing as an economic superpower will likely be eroded and overtaken by Asian economies by 2030. “The spectacular rise of Asian economies is dramatically altering … US influence,” says Christopher Kohm, chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Much of the economic power in Asia is due to the dramatic and rapid economic growth in China over the past 25 years, leading to a growing need for skilled business professionals throughout the nation.

As China’s economy surges, it has led to a severe shortage of well-trained managers. With demand for management talent running well ahead of supply, a number of elite Chinese schools have rushed to fill the gap. Tens of thousands of Chinese students who once sought MBAs in Europe and the US are beginning to stay in the country, building contacts and taking advantage of schools eager to join the ranks of the world’s finest universities. A 2005 survey found that students were overwhelmingly upbeat about China’s prospects, as well as their own. Increasing numbers of Westerners are also enrolling in Chinese MBA programs, hoping to take position themselves in the fastest-growing major economy in the world.

In a Forbes China survey of 45 business schools from 2005 to 2009, the Beijing-based Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business was found to generate the best returns for executive MBA students. Founded in 2002 by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, salaries for graduates in 2005 increased by an average of 16% in the four years after graduation. However, China’s most prestigious business school is perhaps The Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing. Founded in 1985, the school is one of the most selective in the country, largely using top business schools in the US as a template. “We try to learn from the best practices around the world. Harvard uses case studies, which we think is very important for business education,” says school dean Hongbin Cai, who holds a PhD from Stanford and once taught at UCLA. “Over the past 10 years, we have sent more than 30 faculty members to participate in the Harvard Business School’s case method development programs. They learn the case method, and they come back to develop cases on Chinese firms and then teach those cases in classrooms.”

As the marketplace continues to evolve, the case for Chinese business schools seems to only be growing. As more Chinese students continue on to college, many experts believe an MBA will soon be viewed as a necessity, leading to even greater prestige for some of the country’s best schools. Before long, the best MBA programs in Asia may challenge the reputation of schools like Harvard and Wharton as the best business schools on the globe.

What do you think? Are business schools and MBA programs in China becoming competitive and attractive to Westerners?

This was a guest post by Abigail West of MBA Online.


Written by Abigail West


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