Leading foreign business schools in China tend to play the brand card heavily. International accreditation and ranking are two aces. These aces help, but they do not guarantee success. "Made in France," for example, has significant value for luxury products and wine, but not necessarily for business schools. Despite the fact that Euromed Management is one of the top 10 business schools in France, awareness of our brand in China is limited.
In fact, a large fraction of Chinese managers are unfamiliar with accreditations like EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA. You have to educate Chinese prospects on the international accreditation system during the marketing of a MBA program – extra work which also benefits competitors.
Co-branding with a local partner is required, but requires active management. If foreign business schools want to establish a program in China, several "hand-shaking" visits by the dean are far from enough. A project team, with a qualified project leader, should be established quickly to do the follow-up and maintain constant contact with the Chinese partner.
Follow the leader
One of the key factors is the empowerment of the program leader to make change happen, by allocating decision power in terms of budget and resources. Keeping in mind the long-term strategy while implementing a short-term strategy will make everything clear at the operational level.
The marketing strategy should be decided by the project leader. An annual strategic marketing plan should be formulated, within which the budget and choice of promotion channels will be the most important part. The project manager also maintains links between stakeholders, including the deans of the two schools, the MBA students, other businesses, media and government officials.
If the local partner has a strong market position, the foreign partner can benefit from the regional prestige of its local partner. Otherwise, positioning the foreign business school as the specialist (or leader) in a business field is a smart way of communicating. This niche market strategy can either be positioned by function, such as HR and marketing, or by sector.
Since they believe that "best practices" are universal, some schools will duplicate existing programs of their home country in China. Foreign MBA directors may in fact ignore an important detail: joint venture programs in China are dominated by local students. If Kentucky Fried Chicken can sell congee for breakfast here, foreign MBA programs need to think how they can add a Chinese touch to their business programs. For instance, at least one course should be devoted to understanding the specifics of one Chinese industry, giving students the opportunity to expose the situation in China while doing a case on a foreign company.
According to a survey of 380 students in our joint EMBA program with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, students in China are driven by two factors: "pragmatism" (the MBA must give the possibility of a career change) and "understanding" (students want to familiarize themselves with European and US management styles).
In the case of our EMBA, two tracks, "Finance" and "Global Management," answer the needs of middle- to senior-level managers whose careers are stalled. We integrate strategic project-oriented learning, live case studies and senior consultants into our executive MBA programs because executives have higher learning experience expectations. Overseas study trips and courses such as "Comparative Management" fulfill the needs of local Chinese students that want more foreign exposure.
However, there is no fundamental difference between the needs of MBA students in China and in the rest of the world. All MBA students want the best professors for each course so as to acquire the breakthrough knowledge that is the core value of an MBA, along with good services: high-quality program management, alumni activities and networking.
Dr. William Hua Wang is associate professor of innovation management and managerial economics at Euromed Management Business School. His research interests center on foreign direct investment, innovation, transitional economies and the automotive industry. He is Chief Area Manager, responsible for Euromed Management’s international cooperation in China.