Business Schools

Corruption, networking and the Executive MBA in China

Posté par Pascal Petitjeanil y a 4 annéespas de commentaire

NSB’s China consultant explains how Western business schools can make the most of their presence in China

In September 2014, the Chinese government’s anti-corruption war targeted Executive MBAs (EMBA), following the government’s ban on officials receiving scholarships from business schools. This regulation means directors and managers in government and at state-owned enterprises are unable to accept costly business training programmes unless they get official approval and pay the tuition fees themselves.

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For a long time, EMBAs were seen as a good opportunity for networking, or building “Guanxi” as it is known in China. As tuition fees for EMBAs were too expensive for most government officials, some business schools offered practically free enrolment. This way, the business schools were able to attract wealthy entrepreneurs looking to build their networks with officials. This is where the idea of “corruption” came from. About 5% to 8% of China’s EMBA students are government officials, most of whom have scholarships funded by business schools.

This new regulation could also be a good thing to promote growth in academic rigour and high-quality teaching. Some business schools welcome this regulation, especially when their programmes are taught uniquely in English, while government officials are likely to follow a programme in Chinese.

However, in the short term, this regulation will impact business schools. With the withdrawal of government officials, the quality in the learning experience for students from companies will be lowered as it is undeniable that networking with officials is also part of a high-quality EMBA programme. On the other hand, the Chinese market is becoming more and more strategic for European and American business schools with the rise of Chinese businesses and relative strong economic growth. So, the problem for most Western business schools is how to deal with this new situation, especially in PR.

Firstly, we think it’s important to show the attractiveness of your EMBA to Chinese entrepreneurs. In the past, government officials always made up a minority of EMBA students. Many state-owned companies have a real need to be more globalized, so they still need to give their managers the necessary training, including executive programs. In addition, the private sector is more active in China these days. We have witnessed the rise of many non-state-owned giants, such as Alibaba, Wanda and Fosun. For these big private groups, executive programmes are not only a bridge to networking with officials, but also a shortcut in learning from Western companies and competitors. As a result, for business schools, the key message for communication should always be built around a “global programme” or a “high-quality learning experience”, etc.

Secondly, the government’s ban also makes the media more cautious when publishing articles directly relating to or promoting executive programmes. It’s easy to understand as media censorship still exists in China. In order to communicate more efficiently, we advise our clients’ core of message be focused on actual specializations of their programmes. For many Chinese media and the public, the EMBA doesn’t have a good image: not only is it costly, it is not always clear what exactly will be taught. So, if business schools can build their stories on the specializations of their programme (it’s also an effective way to differentiate from other executive programmes), the media may be more interested in the programme’s “specialization”, and this also lets more people see that there are high-quality executive programmes out there and people can really accelerate their business and career thanks to these programmes.

Last but not least, business schools can always show their academic strength through their professors’ research and different kinds of expertise. Many successful business schools have created executive programmes with top Chinese universities and business schools. This gives them an edge on building relations with local media. But considering China’s complex and changing media landscape, communication should also be regular and cover as many aspects of your school as possible, not just the partnerships with Chinese institutions. So, the next question is what to communicate. We think new research linked to news and current affairs is always attractive to journalists. Chinese journalists make few requests, and it’s important to encourage your faculty to comment on the topics that Chinese media pay attention to and actively pitch the experts’ opinions to the media. However, this communication is not enough. Chinese people usually think meeting “face-to-face” is more important. So for business schools, it is essential to organize some sort of event in China, and create opportunities to meet the media and the public. Then, regular communication will help to maintain a meaningful relationship with the media.


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