Thought leadership and the MBA: In conversation with Tsinghua University |

Thought leadership and the MBA: In conversation with Tsinghua University

By Will B

Updated February 9, 2024 Updated February 9, 2024

The QS Global MBA Rankings 2024 saw the MBA programme at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management (Tsinghua SEM) climb deeper into the upper echelons of worldwide business education and solidify its position as China’s best business school.  

TopMBA sat down with its Associate Dean, Professor Xin Xu, to talk about expanding horizons, transforming business education for a new economy and striving to become the world’s best business school. 

What is the value of an MBA education in the modern world? 

It’s about achieving balance and expanding student’s horizons. Whether it’s our part-time or full-time MBA programme, they share a commonality – each is focused firmly on the future. We must achieve a balance between the comprehensiveness of MBA education while remaining clearly focused. 

On the one hand, it must offer foundational courses, covering the whole spectrum of a company or organisation’s function, from accounting to marketing to operation and strategy in order to lay a strong foundation for future managers.  

On the other hand, there’s being focused. So in recent years, our programme focused on technology innovation in the age of big data and AI. The ultimate goal is to broaden student’s horizons in terms of managing in today's global business environment. 

It’s also important to have balance in the industries students come from. They’re from finance, from tech, from traditional manufacturing industries, from the government or the public sectors. When students graduate, we see two changes. The first change is students reach another level in their industry in the same company, moving to a more senior management level. Then the second, for us, is about half of the students shift toward another industry altogether. That's a major trend in our school and it comes through allowing students to learn across sectors so they can better find which industry is the most perfect fit for their interests and their skills. Again, it’s broadening their horizons. 

What can students expect from studying for an MBA at the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University? 

We try to maintain a diverse student cohort. The student percentage is about half domestic and half international – from more than 40 countries around the world. We maintain this balance on purpose because we want our students to mingle so that they can share and learn with each other. 

We’ve also worked closely with our partner, MIT Sloan School from the very beginning of the establishment of the programme, and together we co-designed the curriculum. We invite MIT Sloan professors to come to the Tsinghua campus and teach some of the core courses, and we also send students to the MIT Sloan School. Again, the ultimate goal is to broaden student’s global horizons. 

We value experiential learning and work with leading companies worldwide to design and launch experiential learning for students going to foreign countries. For instance, we have a learning module in Spain. Our host is in tax and the focus is on sustainability. And we have a module in Atlanta with Coca-Cola focused on marketing for a product you consume every day. Then a module in Seattle, focused on new technologies, with companies like Boeing, or art and design and fashion in Italy. 

In the global MBA rankings, Tsinghua excelled in QS’ Thought Leadership metric. What do you think is behind this achievement?  

I think several factors contributed to our performance this year, but there's still room to go. The founding Dean of the school is the former premier of China, Zhu Rongji, so he brought excellent resources to the school and set it up with the goal of being the leading business school worldwide, that’s our goal. Humbly speaking, we have not yet achieved that but it’s still our goal. 

A large proportion of our faculty members have doctoral degrees from leading research universities worldwide and are highly trained researchers. We encourage our faculty members to do research situated in real business settings. The school encourages them to engage in scholarship to address real business problems. The school provided a lot of resources to support faculty to do research in that way. So we achieve dual purposes, on the one hand, to encourage publications by faculty members. On the other hand, so faculty members can bring what they learned from research back to the classroom. 

How has MBA education adapted in recent years and what does the future look like?  

There are challenges. For us, the challenge is the mode of China's economic development at this time, which applies to many economies. In the new era, China's economic development means that the mode has shifted from the high-speed development of the past to today's high-quality development. I think this is a significant change and it’s a signal that China's economy has moved to a more mature stage, which requires high-quality development, rather than high-speed.  

Companies have to redevelop their business models to find new markets and we need to adjust the content of our courses to reflect and feed these needs. For example, we need to bring courses that can perfectly integrate business and technology because technology is a major engine of today's economic growth. However, these are new courses and we need the faculty members to engage in them. So we need to look at how to best change from a teaching programme that feeds the old mode -  high-speed development – to today's mode – high-quality development. What are the new business problems? What are the new business models that companies should use? How do teachers need to do research and service those models in practice? I think that is the foremost challenge right now. Faster reforms in the content delivered to students. 

Professor Xin Xu is Associate Dean at School of Economics and Management, and Starr Endowed Chair Professor from the Department of Management Science and Engineering. Prof. Xin Xu has been serving as the President of Association for Information Systems China Chapter since 2021. He obtained Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of California, Irvine, in 2005. 

This article was originally published in February 2024 .

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