Most of the leading English-language EMBA/IMBA programs in the region commence in the spring – CEIBS and UBC/Sauder’s programs in March; USC/SJTU’s GEMBA, the Olin-Fudan and the HKU-Columbia-LBS programs (Hong Kong) in May; the ChicagoBooth (Singapore) and the Tsinghua INSEAD programs in June. Rutgers starts in July in Shanghai and a bit later in Beijing.
Therefore, the end of the summer vacation season has come to mark the beginning of serious recruiting for these programs. Starting this month, you will see more advertisements and a buffet of information sessions, as these programs seek to fill their classes that will start in 2011.
With all these programs attempting to promote themselves, candidates for programs and their sponsors will face a substantial volume of information to process. A good processing frame should help, and it starts with building a grid of the key differentiators: reputation, faculty, curriculum, student/alumni cohort, tuition, location and schedule.
Faculty and curriculum: Wise candidates will go beyond assessing what percentage of each are local or overseas; they will consider the academic background of each faculty member, plus the quality of the curriculum elements. The Chinese business environment is so new and so fast-changing that some of the materials used in MBA programs relevant to China are themselves immature. While all students benefit from an integrated curriculum (a check with the program’s academic director to see how the program manages integration is a very good idea), people who aim at a global career have a particular need to study with a globally integrated approach, which requires extensive review of global best (and worst) practices. Finally, the Chinese academic environment is still weak enough that faculty who have earned their PhDs from reputable foreign institutions are still a much stronger option as course leaders for MBA programs. (The Chinese b-schools themselves recognize this weakness – they themselves only rarely hire fresh PhDs from domestic institutions, preferring either those who have earned their PhDs overseas or more senior faculty who have proven their academic leadership over years.) Evaluate the components, not just a percentage breakdown.
Student/alumni cohort: An MBA program’s students and alumni are a primary component of the value proposition. So taking the time to sit in on classes, and meet students and alumni outside of class provides essential information for your grid analysis. Some programs have more localized cohorts, some more international – different types of candidates will find one or the other more suitable. Also, go beyond numbers: Determine how strong the program is not just in claiming alumni numbers, but in fostering network connections with gatherings, e-networking, etc.
Tuition: Varies hugely – some-English language programs have tuitions less than US$25,000, while at the other end the two programs in Hong Kong and the one in Singapore mentioned above ask for about US$125,000. A difference of 10% between two programs is probably not worth considering unless all other factors are equal, but there’s clearly enough potential difference that price will drive some decision-making.
Location and schedule: can have a surprising influence on a student’s experience. A trip to the campus to understand the facilities and the commute required will give candidates sufficient understanding of the location factor. The program schedules are available on school websites – some feature more in-class hours and more intensive schedules, some feature less. As with so many other factors, no one program schedule is right for everyone.
Since even the programs with comparatively fewer in-class hours will require somewhere around 1,500 hours of total time (in-class, study and travel), and given the tuition levels, the decision of whether to join a program, and then which to join, is a resource commitment akin to buying a house. Wise candidates will take the time to do some serious due diligence.
If you’re tempted to avoid the preparatory work, a bit of warning: Well-led programs evaluate their candidates carefully for managerial and leadership ability; they may conclude that a candidate who hasn’t done such due diligence isn’t suitable!
John D. Van Fleet works in the university sector in China. He lives in Shanghai.