The China Lab: Fudan University’s Collaboration With MIT

Fudan MIT

This article is sponsored by the Fudan University School of Management International MBA program. Learn more

In the second decade of the 21st century, the Chinese economy is undergoing a radical transformation. For years the country’s growth was built around its might as a global manufacturing center, a place where products were assembled quickly and inexpensively. Multinationals took advantages of the cost differential.

Although still a global leader in contract manufacturing (where products are designed elsewhere and assembled in Chinese factories), the Chinese economy is transitioning toward one more familiar to Westerners. It is a place where high-tech skills are increasingly prized and lower-paid line workers are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The transition has not been without hiccups. Last year the Chinese economy grew by just 7.4% – the lowest level in 25 years.

Companies are finding one of the best ways to turn a challenge to their advantage is by embracing East-West collaborations. One of the oldest university-based programs, MIT Sloan’s China Lab, places students in a three-month consulting project for a Chinese entrepreneurial firm. Students work in teams of four: two MBA students from MIT Sloan and two International MBA students from Chinese partner schools.

Shanghai’s Fudan University is one of those. The century-old university is home to some 34,000 students. Its International MBA program offers students the chance to earn a learning certificate from MIT while Fudan students admitted to MIT’s Master of Science in Management Studies spend their second year earning an additional degree.

To see how the Fudan-MIT collaboration works, interviewed program participants to learn how they provided value to participating companies while enhancing their own educational experience.

MIT Sloan and the China Lab

Long considered one of the best business schools in the world, MIT Sloan often leverages the wider university’s renowned technology programs. Collaborations between departments like business and engineering is why students say it is better prepared for a tech-heavy future than many other highly ranked schools.

MIT Sloan is a pioneer in global collaborations. The school welcomes students from partner schools while its own students also study abroad. One of its oldest partnerships is with Fudan. As MIT Sloan notes on its website, “One of the first and leading programs of its kind in China, Fudan’s International MBA program equips students with the management skills and experience needed to excel in a global Chinese corporation or international company doing business in China. In turn, MIT Sloan students, faculty, and administrators gain valuable insight into China and Chinese-based economies.”

MIT Sloan’s partnership with Fudan (part of China’s elite C9 Group of universities) is no accident. Long one of the jewels in China’s higher education crown, the school has steadily moved up the global business school rankings.  Recently released rankings from the Financial Times place Fudan’s MBA program among the top 100 Global MBA Programs for the third year in a row. Fudan is also ranked number two in the world for salary percentage increase and number one for the percentage of female students.The QS Global 200 MBA rankings place Fudan’s program in the top 20 in Asia.             

Kathy Pan is an example of Fudan’s female students. Even with the school’s high rankings, the MIT collaboration enhances the value of her Fudan International MBA. “MIT Sloan is a top business school. We can learn from those top students and how they analyze China’s economy, and we can also learn more about the American business environment. It is not enough for us to only study how to do business in China, we also need to know how to spread our culture overseas.”

China Lab is part of MIT’s Sloan Business School’s Action Learning Labs with a focus on Chinese entrepreneurial firms. Each team has four members with half from Fudan and half from MIT. Teams spend two weeks at each firm, meeting with employees and gathering information. International MBA students also visit MIT Sloan toward the end of the project to attend classes with their teammates and finalize project recommendations.

Offering value to a company means many things for Fudan MBA students. It can be as simple as handing out surveys to shoppers at a Shanghai mall. It can be as complex as charting a corporation’s growth while analyzing the challenges it faces in the volatile, vital Chinese market…or it can mean sitting quietly by while your teammates give their presentation in Mandarin, a language you neither speak nor understand!

Pan and Yang Yang were the Fudan team members for China Lab’s VIPABC Tutor Group. Yang grew up in a small Northern Chinese town – Anyang in Henan Province: “Going to Fudan was one of my dreams since high school.” After spending half-a-dozen years in the online payment and investment banking industries, Yang was admitted to Fudan’s International MBA program, where the collaboration with MIT was a significant draw because the school has, “profound prestige in China as one the best universities worldwide and also contributes in edge-breaking theories and technologies.”

Pan’s journey was different. She grew up and attended university in Shanghai, majoring in journalism. She then worked as a project manager for an investment consulting company in Shanghai. “I realized that in order to break the glass ceiling at during my work, I needed to absorb more knowledge on management and finance. After I did some research about MBA education, I decided to make a new start.” Pan noticed that everyone in her China Lab team has a different background – “Some are familiar with marketing, some have experience in finance. We learn from each other and share every sparkle.” The collaboration, she reflects, allows MIT students, “to experience the real business situation in China and we can also know how the world sees China.”

China Lab provides a real world opportunity for students to apply what they learned by working in a cross-cultural team. This isn’t without challenges. During the presentation given by the Chia Tai group to the company’s president to enhance communication, Fudan students Ng Xin Yao and Chen Hui Zhu gave the presentation in Mandarin. Although MIT student Discoro Mesquita Gomes visited Chia Tai’s Beijing office for the mid-term presentation, his lack of fluency in Mandarin limited his contribution.

Although collaborations and team activities are often nerve wracking initially, Yang says the results are worth it because “I learned from working with MIT graduates. I was impressed by their vision, enthusiasm, knowledge and kindness.”

VIPABC/Tutor Group

Whenthe VIPABC teamstood before The Tutor Group’s representatives, including the company’s CEO and founder, Dr Eric Yang, it could have been a tense moment.

A total solution e-learning cloud technological platform, Tutor Group collects thousands of foreign instructors from 60 cities in 32 countries providing 24 hours live-online learning service. Tutor Group serves more than 20 million customers every year.

For five days the team worked onsite conducting internal interviews and material analysis. The group brainstormed and spoke with professionals in different fields. They’d even done marketing surveys with both classmates and the general public. Yet as the Fudan - MIT Sloan students gave their midterm presentation, they were already comfortable with the company. This was due in part to their invitation to Tutor’s annual party.

“We were lucky to be invited to their annual party right after the second day of onsite consulting,” Yang remembers. “This is the time when the whole company celebrates the past year and what’s to come in the next. Most of employees in greater China attended that party (over 200 people)... It was a great party with no hierarchy.”

Although not every team can be welcomed as effusively, the party invitation demonstrates how the China Lab teams are often valued for their work because they genuinely improve a company’s prospects. It’s a valuable product after all, combining knowledge of the Chinese economy with an outsider’s perspectives of challenges to a company’s growth.

As the largest English language learning institution in the world, Tutor Group offers an array of online learning classes, including the one focused on by the China Lab, the VIPABC. This China-based, English language-learning program is an example of, “The vision that Tutor treats every learner as valuable customers,” says Yang. “Furthermore, Tutor is dedicated to making it easy and efficient for everyone to learn foreign languages.”

The Fudan students saw first-hand that Tutor’s success is not just linked to how it treats customers. Their success is linked to how they treat employees as well. “Tutor group is a company full of passion,” remembers Pan. “You can feel it in every detail, even the music around the whole office is light and cheerful. Every employee in the company stays in a good mood and CEO Dr Yang believes that only a happy employee can provide happy service to customers.”

Fudan inspires a similar level of commitment. Today Yang admits, "That experience is still helpful... whenever I learned something new, I could recall whether we can have done better at that time. I’m still following the news of our partner company checking whether our proposal makes sense in their development."

This article is sponsored by the Fudan University School of Management International MBA program.

Written by John Bankston

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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