Started in 1996, Webster University's joint MBA program with Shanghai University of Finance & Economics is one of the city's oldest part-time MBA programs -- and one of the few with a Western partner anywhere in China that doesn't bill itself as an Executive MBA program. Unlike most other joint programs, its student body is made up entirely of Chinese nationals, many of them from state-owned enterprises.
It doesn't require that professors hold doctorates, and the faculty is made up largely of local PhDs or business executives serving as adjuncts. It's also far less expensive than other joint programs -- $12,000 for the full 20-month program -- but still a lot of money in a country where per capita income is $1,100. Program Director Dr. Richard Foristel sat down with BusinessWeek in Shanghai recently to reflect on the school's success in its first decade. Following are edited excerpts of the conversation:
Webster considers itself to be somewhat of a pioneer in Chinese business education. How have you attracted the 1,000 students who have passed through your doors?
We've never had any problem filling every spot in our classes. The Chinese have embraced the Webster model of convenient class times and flexible learning the same way it works on all our campuses.
MBA students come to learn on weekends, either Saturday or Sunday, for 20 months, so they can maintain their full-time jobs. We're an on-the-job program. And they come in droves, some even taking the bus for over three hours from Nanjing to get here for 8:30 a.m. classes.
Why do students travel so far to Webster? Do you offer something a local university cannot?
Ours is an international MBA taught solely in English. We require a certain level of English for admission, but then it is bolstered during our four pre-courses that all students must take. By the time their 20 months with us are up, they [have the confidence] to go into any business setting and speak English. For a lot of our students, that confidence in English makes their $12,000 tuition well worth it.
Webster University has more than 100 campuses worldwide. How does the Shanghai program make use of this huge global presence?
It gives students an automatic extra level of flexibility. If for some reason they should have to leave Shanghai before their two years are up, they're guaranteed the same international standard of education and a nearly identical curriculum almost anywhere they could land -- even if it's as simple as having to transfer between our Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen campuses. Webster students also have the opportunity to study abroad at any of our other campuses around the world. For example, they can visit our St. Louis [Mo.] or London campuses.
Do you make any efforts to help students apply this global curriculum to their work here in Shanghai?
Well, part of it's not relying completely on the textbooks. I'll often be online, checking to see the breaking news from BusinessWeek or other publications to see how I can relate it to the lessons in the classroom. I'm also constantly looking to bring in guest speakers from local companies to share their experiences.
We also work with our local partner, Shanghai University of Finance & Economics. When we first got here, they wanted to know everything about the MBA from us. Now universities from around the world are clamoring to get to know SUFE.
Your program has no permanent faculty, drawing from either visiting foreign professors or local business professionals as adjuncts to teach courses. Does this affect the quality of education you provide?
We're not a research institution. We teach practical, real-world skills. What our professors lack in degrees, they more than make up for in real, on-the-ground experience. They know a lot about companies, about what works and what doesn't. That practical knowledge translates into credibility.
Webster is not accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Why?
It's a technicality that AACSB can't be applied overseas. We run into small issues, like our adjuncts don't publish -- but we make up for that with practitioners. Our dean is working with AACSB to come up with new provisions to fit Webster's overseas presence.