East meets West: The future of business education in China

Business-educationWhen China first began the process of integrating into the global economy there was a necessary and rapid assimilation of Western business practices. Business schools in China were therefore geared towards producing curricula to meet this need. As China prepares to shift to an economy based on qualitative growth, business schools in China will need to adjust accordingly, says Dr Ding Yuan, Dean of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). Curricula at these schools will be increasingly based on a dialogue between East and West as China begins to export, as well as import business education.

When modern, systematic business education was first introduced to China 20 years ago, knowledge dissemination was the most urgent task – multinational companies wanted to bring their Chinese employees up to the level of their Western counterparts as quickly as possible, and Chinese companies also wanted to dramatically improve the management skills and general competencies of their employees. Much of the curricula of business schools in China was designed to satisfy these needs.

Today, as its economy continues to mature and becomes increasingly globalised, China is facing many new challenges. This, in turn, poses new challenges for enterprises in China. How can Chinese companies in the manufacturing sector innovate and upgrade in order to move up the value chain? How do we implement reforms at state-owned companies (SOEs) to create mixed ownership between SOEs and the private sector? How do Chinese family enterprises deal with the succession over their founders by the second generation? These are all new issues for China and the curricula of business schools must evolve to help share solutions from more mature markets while continuing to train an innovative and globally-minded workforce.

I believe that this second wave of learning at business schools here will be different from the way in which we previously imported knowledge into China. Business education will need to be more interactive and enable a new creative dialogue between Chinese executives and their counterparts in more mature economies.

Many mature economies in Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and others have already developed effective approaches for handling the challenges of moving up the manufacturing value chain, mixed ownership, and family business succession. China can study their knowledge and best practices, and localise them for the Chinese market by creating a two-way interactive learning and summarisation process.

France, for example, has operated with a mixed economy for years. They have significant experience in vitalising SOEs by injecting private capital and establishing appropriate corporate governance practices. We can easily work with these experts and develop new models for SOE reforms in China. German companies, many of whom are family businesses, are champions in the manufacturing sector and have remained productive and competitive over the long term despite an ageing society and high labour costs. To a lesser extent you can also see this in Japan.

There is much that Chinese companies can learn from these foreign practices. Business schools in China must therefore ensure they have the right resources in place to facilitate this learning exchange and bridge the knowledge gap between mature economies and China. We need international standards, high quality researchers and faculty with a ‘China Depth, Global Breadth’ mind set to dig into these issues. The faculty must be well trained and well informed about existing methodologies and international literature, yet still be rooted in China in order to be able to assimilate and disseminate these practices in a way that will be relevant to Chinese executives.

Another way in which we see business education in China changing is that companies within China have developed management practices and business models that are not seen in other parts of the world. China is growing into a very large and sophisticated market. There is also a large demand for China-based business schools to put these practices into models and theories, incorporate them into their curricula and spread them among Chinese companies. It is also important to summarise these Chinese best practices into case studies, just as the Japanese did many years ago with the Toyota model. These case studies are interesting and instructive, not only for China but also the rest of the world, particularly companies in emerging economies.

One current, hot example from China is the success of Alibaba. Founder Jack Ma married elements of Amazon.com and eBay, which had been very successful in the West, with the unique conditions of the Chinese market to create a world-class e-commerce powerhouse in China, which ultimately beat the foreign giants. The smooth and efficient distribution networks in the United States are unknown in China, so Alibaba developed a new e-commerce business model that bridges C to C (consumer to consumer) and small B to C (business to consumer) users, creating a lot of value for these people as well as for Alibaba itself. It also had to create a new platform, Alipay, to provide financial services in order to help facilitate financial transactions between its users.

Creating case studies of successful Chinese business models and management practices will require a large group of Chinese companies who are willing to open their practices to researchers. China-based business schools will need access to high-level, international partners who can facilitate access to the latest research and knowledge and help to validate their research findings.

This new creativity dialogue between East and West, and business and academia will put business schools in China at the forefront of creating new and innovative teaching methodologies and curricula for business education. It will then be only a matter of time before we begin to see these innovations being adapted by the more established educational institutions in the West.

Dr Ding Yuan is Vice President and Dean and Cathay Capital Chair Professor in Accounting at CEIBS. Launched in 1994 as a not-for-profit joint venture between the Chinese Government and the European Commission, CEIBS is the only Asian business school to have achieved global ranking for its MBA, EMBA and Executive Education programmes and is the first business school in mainland China that has earned an internationally recognised EQUIS accreditation.