A recent column in CER looked at the troubled data environment related to MBA programs and students in China. "Reliable data" has too often been oxymoronic for many components of the Chinese environment. Improvement has been dramatic in recent years, but the legacies of the old ways persist – the political value of data has historically trumped the data’s value in support of quality analysis. One notorious consequence: overstated provincial GDP figures, leading to a phenomenon satirized by Garrison Keillor in his long-running radio program, News from Lake Wobegon, where "all the children are above average." For another example of this phenomenon, as related to the plague of plagiarism in Chinese academia, see my February 24 column.
In such an environment, it’s not surprising that people, especially those in the heavily state-controlled sectors (these include university education), treat data casually. In late 2009, a vice dean from a leading Chinese b-school off-handedly suggested to attendees at a business education conference that the number of mainland Chinese taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 2009 had declined, compared with the 2008 figure. But earlier this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC, the association of international business schools that owns and administers the GMAT), released its own data (PDF) on GMAT takers (PDF), broken down by country. GMAC derives its data entirely from the self-reporting of test takers, who have virtually no incentive to hide or mislead. The data reveal not only a substantial increase in PRC test-takers of the GMAT, but that "the rate of GMAT testing growth among Chinese citizens and residents continues to be the highest of any large testing group over the last [sic] five years."
GMAC’s reliable data illuminate other interesting features of the China-specific business education environment:
– A Master of Accounting program at the University of Southern California (full disclosure: my alma mater – twice) has become one of the top ten target programs in the entire world for the PRC’s GMAT takers, and the only non-MBA program in the top ten. We may hope that interest in globalized accounting programs bodes well for China’s accounting environment in the coming decades.
– B-schools in the United States remain not only the overwhelmingly favorites in aggregate, their share of overall target b-schools has increased from about 65% to about 77%. About 19,000 people had their test scores sent to US b-schools in 2005; more than 66,000 did so in 2009.
– Hong Kong’s b-schools are the second-most popular destination for test scores. Proximity and Chinese-friendly curriculum surely help to drive Hong Kong’s popularity, and the launch last year of the "EMBA-Global Asia" there, the highest-priced and arguably highest-brand-value program in all Asia, further increases awareness of Hong Kong as a promising location for MBA study.
– Compared with 2005, twice as many PRC residents had their test results sent to mainland-based b-schools in 2009, but because the overall number of results sent nearly tripled, China’s b-schools in aggregate dropped from fifth to sixth in popularity, swapping places with France’s b-schools, which climbed from a negligible amount in 2005 to 2,500 scores sent in 2009. The presence of French b-schools in China has grown substantially in the past few years – INSEAD tying up with Tsinghua for a dual-degree EMBA, HEC offering EMBA programs in both Beijing and Shanghai, and EMLYON working with East China Normal University in Shanghai.
– UK b-schools have enjoyed more than a doubling (1,600 in 2005, 3,500 in 2009). Perhaps a similar explanation: The University of Manchester has established a dual-degree MBA program with Tongji University in Shanghai, while the University of Liverpool and the University of Nottingham have developed stand-alone campuses here.
The data reveal only who took the GMAT, and to which schools in which countries they had their test results sent. How many actually enrolled, and where, is worth a look – another day, another column. But the better data suggest that Western countries whose universities are aggressive in development of their China presence may gain the additional benefit of increased interest in the home country’s own academic programs.
John D. Van Fleet works in the university sector in China. He lives in Shanghai.