With a plethora of degrees to choose from, getting an MBA seems a straightforward task. Prospective students can pick from a range of standard MBAs offered by local Chinese or Western schools, Chinese MBAs run in conjunction with foreign schools, international MBAs from both Chinese and Western schools and executive global MBAs offered by local schools affiliated with top-tier foreign academic brands.
However, the degree of "internationalization" these degrees provide can vary widely. With tuition fees ranging from US$10,000 to US$75,000 depending on the brand of the school, applicants need to be careful to look behind the acronym.
Local MBA courses taught across China are aimed at Chinese students. These courses are taught using Chinese texts and teachers, but may offer little practical experience. The emphasis is on memorization – the traditional form of learning in Chinese schools. No matter how "global" such programs may claim to be (and some make no such claim), courses taught entirely in Chinese using rote teaching style are unlikely to produce candidates capable of working at multinational companies.
Local IMBAs or hybrids like Shanghai University’s Global Local MBA program (GLMBA), attempt to mix content relevant to domestic and foreign markets. They are mainly taught in English, and make an effort to include instruction on international business practices, which may appeal to a domestic employer looking to hire someone with a familiarity of local markets, some understanding of foreign companies and markets, and a reasonable level of English ability. This provides graduates with a local liberal arts education and a view of both global and local business trends, said Tony Koo, managing director of Shanghai University’s MBA Center. Local faculty with overseas experience teach business courses in English, while guest speakers are invited to lecture students on international business practices.
Just sounds nicer
An MBA from a foreign-affiliated school in China, whether or not it is officially dubbed an IMBA, will provide similar benefits to a program with the "international" attached, said China consultant Bill Dodson. Essentially, MBA and IMBA programs affiliated with foreign schools are marketing international experience as part of the coursework, which in China means courses taught in English by Western professors and a classroom composed of international students. There is, therefore, sometimes little difference between MBAs and IMBAs in terms of content.
"The ‘I’ in IMBA is mostly marketing," said John Van Fleet, senior advisor at Antai College of Economics of Economics & Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He added that the Chinese government requires a program to formally register either as an MBA or an IMBA, which encourages usage of the acronym.
For Chinese students, enrolling in a foreign-affiliated school can mean exposure to new ways of learning and to a variety of opposing opinions and discussion. Western teaching methodologies focus on fostering confidence, innovative thinking, and inquisitiveness – key skills that multinational companies are looking for in local hires in China, said Tom Peterson, director of USC Marshall Global Executive MBA in Shanghai.
But some sources said that many MBA programs in China are not only not particularly international, they aren’t even real advanced degrees. Instead, many universities simply consolidate undergraduate-level business content into a two-year program and slap an (I)MBA label on it. Even programs associated with foreign schools can cut corners, substituting local professors for overseas professors or relying on outdated case studies.
While this produces easy money for the universities, both employers and students are skeptical of such programs’ results. For example, one American IMBA student, who declined to be named, criticized his foreign-affiliated Chinese program for using poor-quality faculty. Unfortunately, complaining about it to the administration has only earned him more enemies, he said.