MIT Sloan School of management is one of the top business schools in the world. It established the MIT-China Management Education Project in 1996 with two distinguished Chinese educational institutions - Tsinghua University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai. In China, the Project has been endorsed at the highest levels. During a visit to MIT, the former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji expressed his enthusiasm for the project and his confidence in MIT Sloan. Nowadays, almost all the top U.S. institutions are eager to go to China to establish strategic partnerships. It was a great visionary move that Sloan can recognize that 10 years ago.
Recently, Xing Zong, a fourth year Ph.D. student from Duke University took an exclusive interview with Mr. Alan White, the senior associate dean of MIT Sloan and one the major hands behind the China initiative.
Xing Zong: Mr. White, thanks so much for taking my interview. The MIT President Dr. Hockfield once said in a ceremony to honor your work, " Through your hard work, the China Management Education Project has defined what an MBA should be in China," I am very curious to know, how do you define MBAs in China? Do you see any difference with regards to MBAs in the U.S.?
Alan White: Our approach is to work with Chinese Faculty and educators to assist them in determining their definition of a Chinese MBA. Educational materials in China need to be developed based on Chinese practice, not on Western practice. For this reason, we do not transport MIT to China; we consider the approach of establishing Western schools in other countries the missionary approach. This is not our concept. Our program focuses on Chinese faculty development. To develop a great university you develop the faculty.
Xing Zong: The MIT sloan-China program was launched in 1996, a time when not many institutions recognize the value of collaborating with China. There must be a story there. Could you please tell us the origin of this program?
Alan White: The origin goes back to the opening of China in 1979. When China opened, we began extensive contact initially through the former Ministry of Machinery and Electronics and we worked with the Shanghai Institute of Mechanical Engineering. We were asked by many Chinese schools to work with them but it took some years for us to establish our formal collaborations which initially were with Tsinghua and Fudan. In order to establish our independence we raised resources for the collaborations from outside China. We did not and have not received resources from inside China to support our collaborations.
In the mid 1980's when Lester Thurow became Dean he said that any school that was to become a global business school should understand "Chinese based economics."
This concept was expressed long before other US schools recognized the potential of China. Our goal was to develop a project that would contribute to China so we could thereby learn from China. By contributing, we got the attention of the Chinese, and this has led to very healthy, long lasting relationships.
Xing Zong: What a vision! Right now for Chinese business schools, people describe four different models depending on the extent of collaborative levels between Chinese institutions and top foreign institutions. First, International advisory board (e.g. Tsinghua School of Economics & Management); second, collaboration (Kellogg and HongKong Technology); third, completely depend on International top business schools (Washington Univ.) and the last one is the entrepreneurial model(China European business school). In your opinion, which model do you favor?
Alan White: I would add a fifth, which is Institution Building. We work with outstanding universities that aspire to further develop their business schools and especially to make them global.
Xing Zong: The tuition keeps rising for Chinese MBAs. Do you think that's reasonable? Is it because of the rise of base salary?
Alan White: Yes, I think it is reasonable as many increase their salaries three times. However, I think it is very important that scholarship programs attract and support those gifted students who cannot afford the increased rates.
Xing Zong: Another topic that Chinese business school is interested, how can they attract international students to Chinese business school? For example, to attract some American students? What should they do?
Alan White: The most important thing they must do is to offer their programs in English. Secondly, they must make their curricula more global, and their faculty must gain experience outside the classroom working and doing research in organizations.
Xing Zong: The admission for Chinese business school is the national MBA test. Many people complain this has some quite obvious limitation. For example, many potential managers are good at practice but not good at taking tests. In your opinion, how much should test scores count and how much should working experience count?
Alan White: To some extent this depends on the age range of those attending your programs. For mid career managers, evidence of successful career performance is more importance than testing.
Xing Zong: You once said, the key to high quality MBA education is to provide first class faculty and faculty without real business experience should not teach MBAs. Could you please elaborate? Each year, some visiting faculty from Chinese will receive training from Sloan. What do you want them to get most out of their trainings?
Alan White: Actually, I don't remember saying that, but I do believe it is important to combine theory with practice. Business education needs to be more like effective medical education. You would not want to go to a doctor who never interned and practiced. Chinese Faculty today have huge teaching loads that make it very difficult for them to consult or do research. To upgrade their schools, this will have to change.
Xing Zong: More and more Chinese young entrepreneurs are eager to startup their own business and see their companies listed in Nasdaq or NYSE. To what extent do you think MBA education can help them in terms of startups?
Alan White: Business education cannot create entrepreneurs or leaders. However, given certain predisposition, business school can enhance a person's performance as an entrepreneur or as a leader. Entrepreneurs need to understand business plan creation, marketing, finance, and other areas of business education, and some of these areas are best taught by practicing entrepreneurs. We have a number of adjunct faculty at MIT/Sloan who make strong contributions to our entrepreneurship offerings.
Xing Zong: Chinese business schools are very ambitious. They are eager to become global players or even leaders in business education. In your opinion, what should they do in order to catch up with worlds' top B-schools?
Alan White: Again it is English, the language of International Business comes first. They must engage in organizations to bring live examples to the classroom. Schools must offer faculty workloads that allow their faculty time to consult, research and practice.
Xing Zong: Dean White, any closing thoughts to our Chinese readers?
Alan White: In the short time, 25 years, I've been working in China, I have seen remarkable progress in Chinese management education. Inside 25 more years, Chinas top schools will be fully globally competitive. There does need to be more emphasis on the development of schools outside Beijing, Shanghai and other prominent cities. Business schools lead economic development and top business schools are located where economies are strong. There are areas of China that are behind and that need more emphasis to equalize development in China. That is one reason why we are working at Yunnan University along with our work at Tsinghua, Fudan and Lingnan.
Xing Zong: Dean White, thanks again for your time. You are an excellent dean and made great contribution to China's management education.
Alan White: Thank you. Your questions are excellent!