The peaceful grounds of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) were designed by I.M. Pei, mirroring the green and slate-grey landscapes that his Suzhou museum is famous for. The gentle flow of water fountains wind their way through the Shanghai campus, belying the more frenetic machinations happening within its halls.
Dingkun Ge, CEIBS’ assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, said he has watched the number of international students explode over the years. “In 2005 when I first arrived, about 7% of students were from the US. Now, 19 or 20% of our students are from the US,” he said. “We have undergraduates from Harvard, MIT, the University of California, Stanford, and many other places coming to study here.”
The rise in international student enrolments is not limited to American students. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the number of foreign citizens who send GMAT scores to Chinese universities has increased 126% from 546 in 2006, to 1,509 in 2010.
The reasons for the increase are multi-dimensional. Yet the main draw card to Chinese MBA programs, Ge argues, is that “people think all the action is in China and young professionals want to go where the action is.”
The other major advantage for international students who count themselves among the approximately 150 graduates from CEIBS’ MBA program each year is the local network they develop throughout their studies in China. Ge describes CEIBS’ alumni network as a “powerful resource” that helps students develop new connections for the benefit of their future career.
Many foreign students also choose Chinese MBA programs after being expatriated to the country. When German national Alex Korte moved to Hong Kong in 2003, he was 24 years old and had already carved out a career in logistics at a multinational company. In spite of this, he couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that his business education was lacking – so he decided to pursue an MBA degree in Hong Kong.
“I had a bachelor’s degree in business and logistics from Germany,” Korte said. “But I always felt that the management component was a bit short in my education and I thought an MBA program would be the perfect addition.”
The feeling is not uncommon among foreign professionals who first come to China to work, and are then compelled to take an MBA to deepen their understanding of Asian business culture. According to Janet De Silva, dean of the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business in Hong Kong, the sentiment is almost universal among applicants for the school’s EMBA program, which Korte graduated from in 2007.
“[These individuals have] often reached a certain point in their career and feel as though there’s something they’re missing,” De Silva said. “They might be accountants or lawyers who want to move into general management, or they might be an entrepreneur who has built a successful business but haven’t had formal business education.”
Kelly Branter, the executive director of Rutgers Business School’s international EMBA programs in Asia, said that foreign students gain unique and valuable expertise at its Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore campuses. On average, classes are made up of students from 15 different nationalities, from places as far flung as Tanzania and Columbia.
“The world is shrinking,” Branter said. “Organizations are looking for their next generation of global leaders, and things are going to continue to change as the focus turns even more to China and other important new markets.”
It’s one thing to say that a number of young people from China and abroad are making Chinese institutions – such as CEIBS, Fudan University and Tsinghua University – their first choice for MBA studies. But it’s what they do afterwards that is really eye-opening. According to CEIBS’ Career Report for the class of 2010, 50% of its international students opted to stay in China and look for work after graduation. And while many students from Western countries face employment uncertainty back home, many are likely motivated by brighter job prospects in Asia: The survey, QS Top MBA Jobs and Salary Trends, reported an estimated 19% increase in employer demand for MBA graduates in China in 2011.
Still, for employers and recruiters in China, an MBA or EMBA – no matter where it’s obtained – isn’t the most important factor in making a candidate’s resume shine.
“If people come out here to do an MBA thinking that it will help them get a job in China, they will find it’s relatively low down on the list of priorities for employers,” said Andy Bentote, managing director of north and eastern China for Michael Page International.
“If you talk to pretty much any company, they will say their strategy is to localize as much as possible. A lot of companies will bring in a senior foreign manager, but one of their primary roles will be to prepare for a transition to local management.”
As such, it’s no surprise that when employers are looking for managers, Chinese language ability is the top priority, followed by work experience in China, and then education qualifications and professional experience elsewhere.
“If you are a foreigner who has committed to doing some kind of Chinese qualification, it will be looked at pretty favorably,” Bentote explained.
While employers may not look at stay-at-home and China MBAs differently, the latter may have a more significant impact in a workplace. School administrators and students agree, for example, that the single greatest advantage of completing an MBA or EMBA in China is the diversity they will be exposed to.
“Management is always about how you can get different people to come together to realize company targets,” Korte said. “A program in China can’t replace certain experiences, but at least it prepares you to work in mainland China with an open mind, so you can more quickly accumulate knowledge and experience that helps you get along with people and achieve your targets.”