Cover Story

Greener pastures

Updated: 2011-07-22 10:56

By Wang Chao (China Daily European Weekly)

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Business learning in China gains traction as foreigners hunt for valuable cross-border experience

Greener pastures
 Jonathan Ley started his bicycle business after getting an MBA degree from Peking University. [Photos by Wang Chao and Zhang Tao / China Daily]

The business landscape is fast-changing and so are business schools and business education. Companies are now increasingly looking for managers who are adept at handling situations quickly and also have cross-border experience.

With China being the fulcrum around which the global economic engine revolves, it comes as no surprise that business education is booming with more and more foreign students now opting to pursue their master of business administration courses in the country.

Contrast that to 10 years back, when there were only a handful who enrolled for the MBA course at the School of Economics and Management (SEM) offered by the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. Annual applicants for the international MBA program now run into several hundred, with nearly 50 percent of the students from Europe and the US.

The China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), with campuses in Shanghai and Beijing, too, has seen the number of foreign students go up by nearly 150 percent over the past five years.

"The dual-MBA program conducted by HEC and Tsinghua is the most popular course followed by the HEC-NYU program," says Pamela Chin Foo, a student from France, who did her first year in HEC Paris, ranked in the FT top 20.

Obtaining a top-ranked degree is not the ultimate goal for most, since business schools in Europe and the US are farther up on the FT MBA ranking list than Chinese ones. The only mainland school that is wedged into the top 100 in 2011 is CEIBS (ranked 17), a joint program between China and the European Union.

"I want to understand the Chinese culture, build up my network and find business opportunities in these two years," says Antonio Granados from Spain. "I guess that is also the intention of most of my classmates." Granados was admitted to the MBA program at Tsinghua University in 2010.

Granados considered doing an MBA in Europe or the US, since degrees from these schools are better recognized in his country but the prospect of exposure in China was compelling.

"I can earn much more with a European or US degree for sure; but then I lose the portfolio in Asia, the most robust market in the future."

Granados had worked with Chinese colleagues for several years - in an overseas office of a Chinese shoe manufacturer, when he began feeling the pull of China.

"I know a lot of companies need to strengthen their supply chain in China, such as Walmart and Johnson & Johnson. I hope I can work with one of these multinationals, in charge of the Chinese section," he says.

Surviving in China is not easy, though, for a foreigner who barely speaks any Chinese and dealing with landlords who were asking three times more "because I'm a foreigner"!

"Every time when I go to bed, exhausted, I ask myself: 'Why do you come here when you can enjoy the sunshine and beach in Spain?' But the next day when I wake up, I tell myself: 'These are great experiences'."

Like their ancestors chasing after silk and spice, Granados and other young Europeans and Americans are attracted by the China story, especially with the economy in poor shape back home. Most of them use the two-year MBA as a stepping stone for working in China.

Gao Xudong, director of MBA programs at Tsinghua SEM, remarks that the graduates' occupations are "surprisingly diversified".

"Many started their own business, some joined multinationals, and some serve NGOs."

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