Through Sino-foreign tie-ups, China’s private-sector players and government have long sought to import and benefit from the technology and other capabilities of foreign entities, in return for granting local market access. Educational tie-ups are no different: The Ministry of Education seeks such win-win collaborations between Chinese and foreign universities – the “technology” is faculty ability, world-class curriculum and pedagogy.
Last month I suggested that one common model, the “joint degree” MBA program, in which the foreign partner offers the degree, has often not delivered on the technology-transfer promise, and that the Ministry has not approved any such program for some years now. The Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and three PRC business schools (Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, Fudan University’s School of Management and Sun Yat Sen University’s Lingnan College) pioneered another model in the late 1990s: MIT provides the “technology transfer” (curriculum design and teaching practices), while the local partners’ faculty do the teaching, and the local partner confers the degree.
The programs require the faculty who teach in them to spend about a semester at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, learning about the curriculum and how to teach it. Local b-schools and their Ministry minders seek precisely this kind of technology transfer, and this model creates more of it (at least potentially) than does any other I’ve seen. Forkson Fu, executive director of the Fudan program, says that perhaps two-thirds of Fudan’s entire b-school faculty have been to MIT for such development in the 14 years since the program was launched (Tsinghua’s was launched a year later, Sun Yat Sen’s in 1999).
Leaders from these programs report that one of the difficulties of implementing them successfully is that China’s relatively immature corporate culture makes case development and securing student consulting projects – a hallmark of the MIT curriculum – more difficult. Fu also suggests that students who have been educated locally, in a Confucian-influenced, listen-to-the-teacher- and-regurgitate-for-the-test model, don’t always understand or appreciate the highly interactive teaching methods of Western b-schools. Nonetheless, the programs’ longevity and stable-to-rising enrollments suggest they are serving a market niche successfully, and that their parent institutions support the programs.
In 2006, MIT launched a fourth collaboration following this model, this time with Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Called China Leaders for Manufacturing (CLFM), the program is built on one MIT launched almost 25 years ago in Cambridge, now called Leaders for Global Operations. Just as with the other collaborations, faculty from Jiao Tong visit MIT for a semester to gain the training and exposure they need to deliver the program in China.
The program comes to China with an unusual set of advantages. China’s manufacturing and supply chain sector is growing no less quickly than the country’s GDP – in other words, faster than that of any other major economy – so graduates should have tremendous job prospects. The two schools are both nationally recognized leaders in engineering, so they bring their historical strengths to bear on the program’s development. And of course the program joins the other three in creating the sought-after technology transfer. Moreover, graduates receive not one, but two degrees: a master’s in engineering and an MBA, both from Jiao Tong.
This final strength also represents a key challenge – all students must pass both the PRC’s master’s-level engineering and MBA admissions exams, greatly reducing the potential pool of candidates. And managing the program requires coordination between not just two, but four schools: Jiao Tong’s School of Engineering and the Antai College of Economics and Management, plus MIT’s own School of Engineering and its Sloan School of Management. Finally, the model that MIT developed over decades relies on corporate partners for financial support and internship assignments, and as we’ve seen above the longer-running MIT tie-up programs here have found such corporate relationships difficult to nurture. All of which suggests that CLFM will be successful only if it has uncommonly strong, globalized leadership.
What MIT gains from these programs is not money – there is little beyond faculty compensation. MIT rather seems to seek relevant relationships with Chinese academic institutions as its primary goal. Its signing of a fourth such collaboration (with Jiao Tong) suggests that MIT sees ongoing value in the model. So why haven’t more Western schools adopted this approach? Good subject for another column.
John D. Van Fleet works in the university sector in China. He lives in Shanghai.