Many of those who have or desire a China/Asia focus for their careers, just like rising professionals anywhere, are considering a Master of Business Administration (MBA). For them, one fundamental question is whether to aim at a China-based program, or one based elsewhere, and the “right” answer depends on a variety of factors.
Yet, regardless of whether you’re a native of China or from elsewhere, I believe the answer is, increasingly: Go for China.
If you’re a China native, the immersion experience inherent in an overseas-based program may have transformative, lifelong value. But other mainlanders, who may gain sufficient global perspective in their work, or who have lived overseas before, will see less incremental benefit from such an experience.
You should evaluate the impact that this decision might have on your career path and weigh it against the opportunity cost. In the case of a Chinese student heading abroad, it may be one or two years’ lost exposure to the China environment, lost China résumé material and salary.
On the other hand, for one mainlander I know, the decision to head overseas was unequivocally the right one. He already had strong English, but had never lived overseas or worked in a strongly Western environment. Moreover, he knew that he’d gain a strong career boost from the experiences and colleagues he’d meet during his studies.
English-language programs in China are increasingly global in faculty and students; a number of them have foreign-citizen enrollment of 50% or more. Chinese students may gain the global perspective they seek right here, in their own front yard.
For non-Chinese students wanting a China focus, the argument for studying here becomes much stronger. Studying outside of China becomes the right choice only for those who can’t relocate here or who seek some specialized course of study that’s not (yet) available in-country.
With a China-based MBA comes a chance to build an understanding of the China business environment from a spot on the front lines. Your fellow classmates will be working and living here, and an increasing number of top-level faculties are teaching and doing research here as well. Even if case studies and other materials aren’t China-specific – it is still difficult to find relevant teaching material that meets global quality standards – class discussions and time outside of the classroom certainly will be.
These on-the-ground insights are major draws for going local, but China’s university system is still years – perhaps decades – away from producing global-class PhDs in quantity, so you should carefully evaluate any localized aspects of the programs you’re considering.
As recently as the early part of this decade, the environment was much different, and (wisely) few non-Chinese were sailing into uncharted local MBA waters. But as the economy has developed, the MBA environment has kept pace.
China-based programs are becoming more specialized. The Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas and Tongji University have just launched an EMBA program focused on retail, consumer products and logistics. This program joins other niche offerings, such as the finance-oriented EMBA offered by Euromed Marseilles and Antai College at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
Variety is also increasing. Since their inception 20 years ago, MBA programs in China now number around 300, and more than 30 have foreign partners. MBA schools from several European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US, now offer degree programs here.
This variety among foreign-affiliated programs spans the price range as well. Now, total tuition costs for such foreign-affiliated programs can range anywhere from US$10,000 (on par with many of the local-language programs), to US$75,000 (priced similarly to programs based in the Western nations).
Furthermore, China-based programs are climbing the quality ladder. The Olin-Fudan EMBA debuted at #8 in the Financial Times’ (FT) 2006 global EMBA rankings and climbed to #7 last year. CEIBS has done well in the same newspaper’s MBA rankings. And a few mainland schools have gained international accreditation, such as AACSB and EQUIS.
Joining an MBA program is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. Choose well and you stand to gain a lifetime of value. And remember: China makes the argument for enrolling in a business program stronger than ever before.
John D. Van Fleet is the former the director of one of China’s leading EMBA programs, he serves as senior advisor to the Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and as managing editor of the NNA China Report.