There are now over 250 business education programs in China, few of which fare highly in international rankings, and some of which have deserved reputations as little more than MBA-mills. It’s not so long ago, for example, that Inner Mongolia University offered an MBA degree for US$3,000.
Over the last four to five years, Chinese schools have begun to appear in the top 25 – even the top 10 – in the world rankings. In 2008, five mainland schools were ranked among the best in the world by various ranking institutions, and in the 2009 rankings of full-time MBA programs published by the Financial Times (FT) put mainland China’s top business school, Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), in 8th place, up from 11th in 2007.
CEIBS’s ranking improvement is linked to improved performance on several key indicators. CEIBS graduates rank highest in the world in "salary percentage increase," which compares the earning power of graduates three years after graduation to their pre-MBA salaries. On the academic side, CEIBS professors are also widely published in peer-reviewed international journals, another FT metric.
The runner-up is Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School, which moved up a notch to 16th in the FT rankings. Other classes of MBA programs are ranked separately, but other well-known Chinese programs have also done well.
While the respective schools’ rankings are dynamic over time, mainland China is increasingly competitive when it comes to MBA brands.
"An MBA from [Shanghai] Fudan or Tsinghua University is considered better than an MBA from an ‘unknown’ Western school," said Frank Jiang, vice president of Research and Development for Sanofi-Aventis.
Domestic programs are also increasingly earning international accreditation. CEIBS is already accredited by the US AACSB and by the European EQUIS accreditation boards. Zhejiang University had its MBA program accredited by London-based AMBA in 2007 and since then three other domestic programs – Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Antai College of Economics & Management, the City University of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Polytechnic – have received AMBA accreditation. More accreditations are in the pipeline.
Jeanette Purcell, chief executive of AMBA, sees the inclusion of five Chinese institutions in the 2008 Financial Times and BusinessWeek rankings as a "step in the right direction." However, she stresses that accreditation is the only real way to certify a school’s reputation in the long term.
"Accreditation measures our internal processes and operations, a motivation for the school to always stay on track," said Yvonne Li, program operations director of CEIBS MBA program.
Rankings, on the other hand, are more important to students and employers, including foreign students, Li added. The percentage of non-Chinese students in the CEIBS MBA program has rocketed from 10% in 2002 to 37% for the 2008 intake class.
Despite the more favorable rankings of a few Chinese schools in recent years, overall growth potential is cramped. John Van Fleet, the former director of the executive MBA program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Antai College of Economics and Management, believes that there is a supply bottleneck when it comes to qualified faculty. Even in the US, he says, business schools are suffering from the shortage.
"One joint venture program here has suffered a substantial decline in faculty quality because the more experienced, brand-name professors that were coming here aren’t coming any more," Van Fleet said, adding that many Chinese faculty are badly paid and even more over-worked than their Western counterparts.
Unfortunately, China can’t leverage a cost advantage when it comes to business education; MBA faculty talent with international experience is a highly fungible commodity. While CEIBS pays its professors at competitive international rates, the school has also benefited from an incubation period in which its costs were covered by the EU and the Chinese government. Not all programs are so lucky.