An MBA in China

Many misconceptions, apprehensions and perceived barriers about China continue to abound in the West, despite China’s now well established position as the number two economy in the world. These are further fuelled by a lack of basic appreciation and understanding of Chinese culture, society, ways of thinking and ways of doing. Education stands to play a unique role in bridging some of these gaps, presenting opportunities to those that are up for the challenge of going to China for study on exchange, language learning, or full degree programs. For those coming from western countries, studying in China offers an experience that will challenge individual understandings and sensibilities in ways more conventional study abroad destinations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) never could.

Traditional criteria often considered in the process of selecting the right MBA program and institution include networks, institutional reputation and prestige, and of course, the courses taught. These criteria apply as much in China as anywhere else. There are other reasons however why embarking on this journey in China is worthy of consideration. In a global economic environment where China’s role and prominence is on the rise, there is a great demand for business professionals who are able to comfortably operate in both western and Chinese environments. This relates not only to foreign companies wishing to open or expand operations in China. It is relevant also as China extends its reach into foreign markets to explore opportunities for growth.

MBA programs in China are offered in English or Mandarin and typically take 1.5 – 2 years to complete. Leading programs include CEIBS ( and Tsinghua University’s MBA ( Another model that is not uncommon is the BiMBA program offered by Peking University ( Here one of China’s most prestigious institutions has partnered with one of Europe’s best managements schools (Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School) to deliver a program in Beijing by western and Chinese professors.

While international student numbers are on the rise, as an international student embarking on your MBA in China you can generally still expect to be in the minority. And this is where the real learning begins. MBA programs involve large amounts of teamwork. Fundamental cultural differences that extend way beyond language barriers mean it will be no time before you will naturally be suggesting going to lunch before talking shop and the assignment at hand. You will learn to listen before you speak and approach problems from different perspectives, as your team mates invariably will not share the same views as you. You will realise eventually that there is no silver bullet, and that the same challenges as you faced them on the first day still exist, with many more uncovered along the way. Only now you have an appreciation and understanding of the environment and a set of tools to navigate differences in thought and practice, culturally or otherwise, that no number of journal articles could ever hope to provide you with.

Put simply: if you want the easy, comfortable route to obtaining your MBA, and if learning macro economic theory from those who developed it is a priority to you, enrol with one of the Ivy League institutions where you will network with the up-and-coming western elite and learn from the West’s leading minds on the subjects at hand. If however you want to be challenged more broadly, grow and develop in ways you didn’t know existed, and don’t mind sacrificing some of the more traditionally held notions of what an MBA should be about, then consider doing your MBA in China. 

Lauren has worked in economic policy and research at the World Bank, World Economic Forum, EIU and for the governments of Sierra Leone and Guyana. She has learned Chinese since 1995, and lived in Beijing for almost six years, on and off since 1997. Lauren has a PhD in Economics from Peking University, an MSc in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a B.A/B.Com from the University of Melbourne.

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