Study MBA in China | TopMBA looks at how China is fast becoming a destination of choice for MBA students. 

Only one generation ago studying market-based economics and business would have been unthinkable in the People’s Republic of China. Now the country is a hotbed for business education in Asia and its top tier business schools are fast climbing the world’s MBA rankings. Out of the 40 elite business schools in Asia and Australia as listed in the QS Global Top Business Schools 2009 five schools are located in Beijing or Shanghai.

Successful transformation in a world of change is the engine that has powered China’s economy full steam ahead, right through the Global Financial Crisis, and bound for “world’s largest economy” in the future. The 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo this year showed that China means business and aims for nothing less than the top. To get there the country needs superior talent, both home-grown and international. TopMBA’s Alena Eckelmann has talked to some movers and shakers in the Chinese MBA scene to get their take on the latest trends.

Chinese Dragon Rising

MBA schools in the PRC are a young breed compared to schools in the US. Their development is closely linked to China’s transformation to a market economy in the early 1980. At the time the wind of change also swept through the field of education and many state universities set up business schools.

The A-list of China’s top business schools today is part of the country’s most prestigious universities. In the top league are the School of Management at Tsinghua University, the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University (PKU) and the School of Management at Fudan University. Their challengers, some private schools, are still few in numbers. CEIBS and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business are the leading independent players.

These five schools are featured in the QS Global Top Business Schools 2009. Beyond that, however, are some other excellent choices such as the Beijng International MBA (BiMBA) offered by the National School of Development (NSD), the economic think-tank of the Chinese Government, at Peking University.

China’s Youth Keen on Business Education

The number of GMAT applicants from the PR of China has more than tripled over the last five years reaching 23,550 in 2009. With a ratio of 40% male and 60% female applicants, it is China’s young women who are driving this trend.

“In principle Chinese women have equal learning opportunities to men and education is well perceived by Chinese families. Education in general is considered to be the key path for women to get good jobs and an MBA is likely to lead them to senior positions in companies,” explains Daisy Wang, Assistant Dean and Director of the Admissions Department (MBA & EMBA), BiMBA, National School of Development (NSD) at Peking University.

More and more MBA programs in China accept students with less work experience. “While before students would enter aged 26 and graduate at 28, they now have a chance to enter aged 21 and graduate at 23,” observes David Wilson, President and CEO at the Graduate Management Admission Council. One such MBA program is BiMBA.

“While work experience is very important, we consider the bigger picture of a candidate. We greatly value the diversity of our student body and candidates without a business background but with experience in the military, academia or in music, for example, are equally considered. These students make excellent contributions and their performance and the feedback from their ‘business’ classmates have proven the success of our evaluation policy,” comments Wang.

“Many Chinese MBA holders do not look for employment in investment banking and commercial banking but they seek jobs ‘closer to home’ such as governmental jobs, jobs at small domestic companies or charities or they set up their own business. This is particularly true for young Chinese women,” adds Wilson.

Why Study for an MBA in China?

The answer is simple: China holds a large, if not the largest, potential for future business in the world.

“International MBA students in China have many chances to meet the current Chinese business elite and get connected to the future leaders who are effectively their classmates,” adds Yichi Zhang, Associate Dean and MBA Director at Guanghua School of Management, Peking University.

“China’s boom over the last decade, and continued consistency during the Global Financial Crisis clearly illustrates the impact which the country already has and will continue to have on the world. Having a China focused MBA from a leading business school puts graduates in a unique position to become a China expert for both organizations in China looking to do business overseas and those international organizations looking to do business in China,” argues Patrick Groom, International Admission & Placement Manager at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.

“The economy of China is one of the most dynamic economies of the world. Studying in this kind of an environment is beneficial if you want to grow professionally in a fast growing country,” advises Sankar Mohan from India, an MBA Ambassador for Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.

Jobs in China – Beijing or Shanghai?

“The pressure on MBA graduates to find employment has increased as a result of the Global Financial Crisis but on the whole the employment market in China has remained relatively strong compared to other countries,” states Groom.

Coastal Shanghai is the centre for commerce and supply chain business as well as China’s financial centre. Beijing, the landlocked capital, houses many governmental think tanks, headquarters of the majority of state-owned firms and is the country’s centre of R&D best represented by “Zhong Guan Cun”, China’s version of Silicon Valley.

While many international banks and investment houses have their headquarters in Shanghai, the majority of international technology companies are based in Beijing. If these are the career paths you are interested in, then studying for your MBA in the right location will increase your chances of exposure to potential future employers, first and foremost their recruiters.

In addition, the Beijing City Government strongly encourages university and business school graduates to set up a business. This creates opportunities specifically in China’s capital for anyone with an entrepreneurial mind and skills set.

Getting in and staying in – visa and language skills

Getting a visa for MBA studies in China does not pose a major problem. Typically upon receiving an Offer Letter international candidates also receive a Visa Application Permit (Form JW202) stamped by the receiving business school. With this international students can apply for a so-called X-visa, effectively a student visa, at the Chinese embassy or consulate in their home country.

Anyone with plans for embarking on a long-term career in China, however, should be able to speak the local language. Drew Bates from the UK, one of CEIBS’ MBA Ambassadors, speaks from experience:

“Gone are the days of expats coming to China and simply walking into a job with a multinational company…What is needed for certain is language skills; almost all of the job postings for MBA graduates now require Mandarin fluency.”

“International students who want to work long-term in China must develop skills which position them competitively to similarly skilled local candidates. The era of getting a job in China purely because of a ‘foreign face’ is long gone,” advises Groom.