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China's Homegrown MBAs

CHINA'S PULL. Similarly, CEIBS has successfully lured top faculty to its I.M. Pei-designed Pudong campus. One is Chang Chun, a professor of finance who gave up tenure at the University of Minnesota to return to his native Shanghai. After serving for some years as a visiting professor at CEIBS, Chang decided last year to move back to China permanently with his family. One key reason, he explains, was to be closer to his elderly parents.

But that decision did not come with a financial penalty, he says. Besides offering a competitive salary, CEIBS also pays the pricey tuition for his 16-year-old son to attend an international school in Shanghai. "The compensation can't match the best universities in the [U.S.], but depending on how you measure it, it's pretty good. And living expenses [in Shanghai] are relatively low," says Chang.

It's not just a question of money, though. Chang says he was also lured back to China for the new prospects created by financial reforms. "In the past two years, China has introduced foreign strategic investors into its banks, and stock market reform is going well, so there are lot of opportunities in the area I am working in," says Chang, who also is director of the Centre for Financial Research and executive editor of the periodical China Economic Review.

INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE. The only drawback: "Teaching a class in finance is not so easy, especially because our students have so little background in finance," says Chang. In fact, if our survey is any guide, even after a couple of years of instruction many of China's MBA grads still lack the full complement of skills needed to excel. Fewer than 20% of respondents polled described Chinese MBA graduates as either good or excellent.

In interviews, corporate recruiters pointed out that often the very best Chinese students go abroad for their MBAs, enrolling at the likes of Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Companies such as Microsoft (MSFT ), which is expanding its 2,100-strong workforce on the mainland at a rate of 30% annually, stress the importance of the international experience that Chinese get when they study in the U.S. or Europe.

"There are excellent Chinese students who wouldn't go overseas because of the cost. So there are very good talents that instead decide to study in China and save money," notes Emre Demokan, senior staffing manager for Microsoft China. "But on the other hand," he adds, "because of the strength of instruction that they get in these programs in the U.S. or overseas, plus the experience they get living and studying overseas, that makes graduates [who study abroad] very attractive."

HABITS OF DEFERENCE. China's long tradition of emphasizing memorization in school also means that many China graduates are unwilling to take the initiative quickly in their new jobs, say critics. Cultural traits, such as a tendency to defer to figures of authority, can also get in the way.

"Confucianism is behind it," says Lydia J. Price, associate dean and academic director of MBA programs at CEIBS. "In the classroom, we can get students to analyze the heck out of a problem, but to get them to make a decision is very difficult."

Many Chinese MBA programs also err by slavishly copying the curriculum of famous schools in Europe and the U.S. "There is still a lot of room to improve for Chinese MBA graduates," says Zhu Ligang, HR director at a Shanghai state-owned enterprise involved in the aviation industry. "That's because what they learn in these Chinese programs is largely adopted from other countries, especially the case studies and subjects that have less Chinese characteristics."

PUSHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP. Despite those complaints, the best schools are working to make their programs more relevant and improve their graduates' skills. Schools are developing innovative programs like Beijing University's BiMBA course on negotiation and Antai's on temple management (see, 11/27/06, "Monks With MBAs").

Many programs, including Antai, require students to enroll in entrepreneurship courses. "We encourage all of our students to take classes like entrepreneurship and innovation," says Antai dean Wang. "Shanghai is an international city with lots of emerging opportunities."

Some of China's best-regarded MBA programs increasingly stress the use of Chinese case studies concerning companies such as Lenovo, Founder Holdings, Midea, and Mengniu Dairy. "Students are demanding more and more China content," says CEIB's Chun.

That drew Oliver Bruns, a 24-year-old native of Germany, to enroll at CEIBS. "We have international faculty, all with China experience, and they relate most of the topics they teach to China," says Bruns, whose tuition is picked up by his employer, German chemical company Bayer (BAY ). "Another thing is the network of classmates, who are all very experienced and come from all over China. If I want to do business in China, I need this network."By Dexter Roberts

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