Yin Zhiwen loves Fudan University. He went there for his entire academic career, receiving his bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in operations research and cybernetics. Since 2006 Yin has served as associate dean of Fudan University School of Management, where he oversees a wide variety of programs, including multiple MBA joint ventures. He spoke to CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about what it takes to manage multiple programs and how to integrate foreign faculty with domestic talent.
Q: You have responsibility for overseeing a lot of different programs. How do you handle it?
A: As the proverb goes, a coin has two sides. While we enjoy the richness and diversity of these projects, we also encounter difficulty in the management of them. We need to distinguish between the differences and needs of each program properly. It is similar to a company which owns various brands: Each brand needs a different marketing strategy.
Q: Can you talk about the different programs you oversee?
A: Basically our projects can be divided into several groups. First, we have programs that do not award a Fudan degree, but instead award the overseas partner school’s degree. For example, we have run a project with BI Norwegian School of Management in Norway since 1996, a program with the University of Hong Kong since 1998, and also a project with Washington University. The second type is the Fudan-only degree, which we provide in cooperation with MIT. Then there are our dual-degree programs with Korea University and the National University of Singapore.
Q: At present there are certain regulations regarding joint-venture programs in China that are applied to foreign programs. Can you discuss this issue?
A: I personally don’t have sufficient information about these regulations. But I am aware of one rigid standard: If an overseas school wants to award degrees in China, it has to cooperate with a school in mainland China. And the examination and verification of that school’s application will be strict. As far as I know, there were some overseas schools that were not approved by the government.
Q: In the Chinese MBA educational system, what policies do you believe are most in need of reform?
A: Our programs have been running relatively smoothly, so I do not have any particular recommendations.
Q: We’ve heard that joint-venture programs are required to have a given ratio of Chinese teachers, that they cannot entirely depend on foreign teachers. What is the reason for this?
A: First, I haven’t heard about any mandatory rules in this area. Personally I think we need to have both local and foreign faculty, but not just to obey the rules. We can learn from each other through this kind of teacher arrangement. However, in different programs, the proportion will be a bit different. For instance, in the project with Hong Kong, faculty from the Fudan side account for 40-50%. In the project with Washington University, out of about 17 courses, our Fudan faculty members are responsible for two or three of them. In addition, we use co-teaching structures which integrate foreign theories with Chinese local practice.
Q: The Chinese educational system has developed very quickly, with the result that while there are many new students, there are not enough experienced professors. Some experts believe that MBA programs here particularly suffer from this problem. Do you agree?
A: As we all know, China MBA education has a short history – less than 20 years – but in Europe and the United States MBA programs have a hundred years of history. So we prefer to cooperate with overseas schools and in this way develop our own MBA education. As one of the top universities in China, we have invested a lot in these programs, especially when it comes to hiring and training faculty members. Maybe in some aspects overseas faculty members are better than domestic faculty, but at least we can guarantee that we will not lag behind our partners. Finally, I think many students choose China as the place to study for their MBA/EMBA because they see the great opportunities in China. There is no doubt that Chinese faculty members possess more local knowledge than other faculty, and this is very attractive to our students.
Q: What requirements do you have for new potential JV partners?
A: At present we don’t have any new projects planned. However, if we look at past experiences, the qualification and influence of our partner schools really matter. We also pay attention to the geographical distribution of our partners. For instance, Europe and the US have different management experiences which we really need to learn from, but at the same time we also need to focus on Asia. Take the program we run with Korea University and the National University of Singapore, for example. I think this project is unique.
Q: Some say that Confucian ideas and traditional Chinese ideas about education are not compatible with the needs of modern, internationalized companies. They say Chinese students are accustomed to passively absorbing what the teacher says without interacting. What’s your take?
A: I don’t agree. For example, in our programs, we frequently invite professors from other departments to give classes in history, philosophy, politics, and so on. Many students like this very much, especially those students from EMBA programs. Some graduates have even come back to Fudan for special classes in Sinology. So I think Chinese traditional thinking has positive effects on students, otherwise why do so many overseas schools have classes teaching The Art of War and Maoism? As for student passivity, let me tell you a story. One day a foreign teacher came to me to complain about how Chinese students are too demanding in class, that he can’t finish his teaching schedule. In fact, many students in our MBA or EMBA projects have jobs or work experience. So they’re a bit different from other bachelor’s students here; each one comes to class with questions. The cost of their time is very high, so they won’t pass up any chance to interact with teachers. They will communicate directly and study very hard.
Q: You’ve mentioned that your program is popular with foreign students. What is the current ratio and the rate of growth?
A: Foreign students account for 10% of all students here, and now more and more foreign students want to come here. I believe that it is because of the exciting development of the Chinese economy. People want to get their MBA or EMBA in China.