MBA programs were first launched in China in 1991 when the government permitted nine pilot schools to enroll business administration students. Now, as the country celebrates its 20th anniversary of MBA education, universities are looking back at their achievements over the past two decades – and the direction that business schools need to take on the road ahead.
There has been tremendous progress in the strengthening of Chinese MBA programs. Today, there are 236 schools in China that offer MBA degrees, while the number of MBA graduates per year has grown from about 100 in 1991, to 30,000 graduates in 2010. Meanwhile, the number of EMBA graduates has risen from 2,447 in 2002, to about 26,000 graduates today.
Despite this growth, Chinese business schools still need to raise the bar. In the next 20 years and beyond, educators will have to sprint to catch up with China’s continued economic development and meet the increasing need for top management skills.
That includes continuing some of the development strategies that are already working well. A prime example is the partnerships forged between domestic MBA programs and foreign business schools. This has allowed Chinese universities to not only learn well-established, international MBA teaching methods, but also to adapt foreign business theories to the unique features of China’s business world.
These are perhaps the most successful and mutually beneficial joint ventures in China today – and they must live on. Connecting China’s MBA programs with foreign institutions is one of the best ways to promote understanding with the rest of the world. The chance for Chinese and foreign managers to collaborate and exchange ideas is invaluable: As much as Chinese managers need to learn global management methods, other countries must also learn how the world’s second-largest economy conducts business.
Many university administrators also argue that China needs to provide better access to business management education. To meet the growing need for business leadership, the country must boost the quantity of MBA programs and improve admissions processes.
The US, for instance, currently admits about 150,000 MBA students a year, roughly five times the figure in China. John Quelch, the newly appointed vice president of the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), estimates that China can absorb about 600,000 MBA recipients every year. That would require about 2,000 universities to offer such programs.
Meanwhile, what happens inside lecture halls also requires further development. When Tsinghua University celebrated the 20th anniversary of its MBA program in May, Qian Yingyi, dean of its School of Economics and Management, said that the future development of China’s MBA education needs to focus on building “leadership, entrepreneurship and action learning.”
Qian’s comments signal how the overall program design of Chinese MBAs needs tweaking. Deans of business schools have pointed to the need for increasing programs’ emphasis on corporate social responsibility, and better integration of different business disciplines so students can be holistic leaders. Another necessary development is to shift MBA programs away from an overly theoretical focus, toward more hands-on experiential learning.
The pressure is on business schools to cultivate more forward-looking MBA graduates who can contribute to the nation’s innovation drive. And as China launches new business programs to meet increasing demand, it must find a way to do so without hindering educational quality. The future development of Chinese MBA education will be challenging – but it has to be bright.