In the past two years, China’s state-run business schools have sped up their race for international accreditation, as affiliation with globally recognized bodies carries with it broad prestige.
Three main bodies – AACSB International in the United States, Equis in continental Europe and AMBA based in the UK – put the stamp of quality education on business schools around the world, and startup MBA programs in China are starting to demand this coveted accolade.
“International accreditation is seen to be essential to put the school in the international field,” Jeanette Purcell, AMBA’s chief executive said.
Only a fraction of the more than 200 graduate business school programs on the mainland are internationally accredited. In the case of joint venture institutions, most local partners piggyback on the credentials of their foreign joint venture partners.
Each accrediting body represents a network of schools and standards, but each is also different. While AMBA accredits MBA programs only, AACSB and Equis sanction the institution as a whole. Which body is suitable depends on the interests and goals of the school, as Jerry Trapnell, the executive vice president and chief accreditation officer for AACSB, noted.
“We differ in our view of corporate relationships, and our expectations and approach are quite different,” he said.
“We allow for more diversity. Schools should ask such questions as: Where does the school see alliances and partnerships, and is one program a better fit than the other?”
This April, Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management became the first school on the mainland to be accredited by AACSB.Qian Xiaojun, assistant dean of the school, felt the accrediting body aided the school’s mission to become a world-class institution. Now, the school is looking into Equis accreditation. But the accreditation process, which the school first started in 2004, was long and arduous.
“Accreditation is not paperwork – you have to demonstrate what you believe, and what you are saying is what you are doing. That is difficult,” Qian said.
However, Qian said that the process really helped the school evaluate itself, the direction it wanted to go in, and what improvements it could make in future.
Accrediting bodies evaluate schools closely based on their core business curriculum, admissions standards and the work experience of students, language, and faculty. Newer institutions lacking a strong mission statement and diverse faculty often fall short.
“I think one of the challenges for some of these startup schools is to really develop their identity, their personality…some [schools] may believe that MBA education is uniform…but nothing can be further from the truth,” Associate Dean Lydia Price at China Europe International Business School said.
The language component may also present a challenge for startup applicants, who have to translate school documentation from Chinese into English. However, this problem is small compared to the shortage of qualified faculty that newer institutions may lack.
CEIBS is able to retain and attract an international faculty through high salaries, but startup MBA programs lack the financial resources to attract a qualified faculty pool.
“Faculty is one of the biggest things the accrediting body looks at, because they want to make sure not only that you are doing a good job today, but that you have the resources and skills that are going to allow you to continue doing a good job, even if there are major shifts in the market,” Price said.
The gap between the pool of qualified faculty and the growing number of MBA programs with vacancies to fill is not an anomaly, since a generation of older Chinese academics were educated before Reform and Opening and thus lack the experience to contribute to a strong MBA program.
“In China, we have our own characteristics. For instance, many of the older professors do not have PhD degrees,” Qian said.
“Schools have to demonstrate, even if the faculty do not have PhDs, that they are active, [and] qualified academically – that is a challenge for Chinese universities.”
lthough startup MBA programs fall short in some areas, they are not without their strengths in others. All MBA programs on the mainland must meet core requirements set by the National MBA Education Supervisory Committee. A third of executive MBA professors in each program must be trained and have taught overseas.
Regulations are also in place by the Ministry of Education, which is setting quality standards for joint Sino-US educational programs by requiring the audit and review of financial reports annually.
Filling the talent pool
By 2010, it is estimated that China’s HR market will require 75,000 top-level executives with global experience, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
This talent pool will partly be filled by a small, albeit growing number of prospective MBA students living overseas who are turning to China. In 2004, more than 18,500 students of all nationalities were admitted to about 90 Chinese MBA programs in 2004, up sevenfold from 1997.
China’s MBA programs will be hoping to attract some of those returnees with new, internationally approved standards.