Importing Best Business Practices

At Shanghai's Jiao Tong University, many professors travel abroad to bring back the latest thinking from other campuses

Founded in 1918, Jiao Tong's School of Management is one of the oldest business schools in China. It has offered an MBA since 1994, and today awards a number of specialized degrees, including an international MBA, a finance MBA, and an MBA in management of technology. Under Dean Wang Fanhua, research has become a priority, with the school offering faculty both time and financial incentives to publish their research.

Since 1997, Jiao Tong has sent more than 60 professors abroad to study or conduct research, and has established six international joint programs with schools in Hong Kong, Singapore, France, the U.S., and British Columbia. Vice Dean Wei Lu sat down with BusinessWeek recently in Shanghai to discuss where the school is headed in its next 90 years. Following are edited excerpts of the conversation:

Shanghai is a city swamped with MBA programs. How does Jiao Tong set itself apart?

Schools have only been teaching MBA in China for 14 years, and most programs learned a lot from the U.S., using popular American curriculums, for example. [At Jiao Tong], we copy and learn from the States, but we also recognize we have to build up our unique qualities. And while we focus on education and teaching, we also have extra services. For example, we were one of the first universities to offer a Career Development Center.

Your faculty is primarily educated here in China, yet you teach a curriculum based on the best Western business practices. Where does your faculty's expertise come from?

This is an expensive question. We send at least 20 of our professors abroad each year, either as visiting professors or on short-term visits. Ten of our faculty join international conferences each year. Of course, the school has to pay these costs, but we think it's worth it for faculty to get out and smell the fresh air. Every three years, they can take a six-month sabbatical, and most go overseas to teach at places like Columbia University, University of Southern California, Georgia Tech, or Rutgers.

Do these professors also bring back Western teaching styles, such as the case-study method?

When I was a boy, teachers said, "Sit there. Keep silent." So I think our students -- while eager to learn -- still prefer to listen [to lectures]. But the culture is changing, and students have more discussion or group projects. But still, if in an American classroom, half of the time is in discussion, here it's only 20% to 30% on case studies.

Cases are a primary fixture in management education. Do students then have any other opportunities to hear about companies outside the classroom?

Every Saturday, we offer an MBA forum. We require students to attend, and we invite speakers from different industries to deliver real practices from the real life of management. If you come down on Saturday, our parking lot is filled. Even our graduates find time to listen to these workshops.

Jiao Tong hopes to become an internationally recognized business school. Where will you start?

We're still young, and we need to learn a lot. So we've formed partnerships with universities all over the world, because they're good opportunities for learning. We're working with the University of Southern California on their EMBA program, the University of British Columbia on an English MBA, and a financial MBA with Marseilles Business School from France. It's excellent for both our professors and students to speak with these visiting foreign professors.

Some of the independent B-schools in Shanghai say their university-based competitors are bogged down in bureaucracy. Is this true?

Yes and no. Independent business schools are only B-schools, but if you look at the market, the companies don't need those young graduates who only understand management. Maybe they need students that understand technology or philosophy or sociology. Being a university lets students broaden their mind during the learning period. Yes, we rely on university support, but our campus is still 10 minutes away from the main campus.