Miatta Momoh believes in miracles. At least that is how the Londoner describes the unlikely way she wound up on the MBA course at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management.
Ms Momoh had been made redundant from a UK digital publishing house, where she had been a client services manager, and travelled to Beijing to visit her mother, who works there as Sierra Leone’s deputy envoy to China. While out sightseeing she spotted an advert for Guanghua’s MBA programme, went for a tour of the campus and applied on the spot.
“The MBA at Guanghua was a direct answer to my prayers,” Ms Momoh says. “The programme emphasised going beyond management, beyond academia, which really appealed to me as someone who was ready for my next new challenge,” Ms Momoh says.
Her goal now is to use the contacts and skills she learns on her MBA to try to launch a digital media agency in Beijing focused on the Chinese and African markets.
Business education in China is growing fast, but the proportion of overseas students on programmes is still tiny, especially compared with MBA intakes at business schools in Europe and the US. Total MBA applications increased for all but one of the 12 Chinese programmes surveyed for this year’s business school applications report by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the management education data provider and consultancy.
However, only 3 percnet of the 22,083 hopefuls were born outside China. In the UK, by contrast, 90 percnet of the applications for MBA courses this year were foreign nationals, according to GMAC. A lot of the overseas students in Chinese institutions have come because they are citizens of fellow Brics, the acronym for an association of five emerging market power houses: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Others come from countries with whom China hopes to build trade links through its One Belt, One Road infrastructure and trade initiative. MBA tuition costs are relatively low at Chinese schools like Guanghua, which charges Rmb188,000 ($28,000) for its full-time two-year programme, compared with a top western school such as Harvard, which this year raised the cost of its headline tuition fees to $72,000 per year of its full-time two-year MBA.
Harvard offers scholarships, but the Chinese government also provides full scholarships to attract overseas students from target countries to many of its top MBA programmes. That government assistance has helped Asithandile Nkatha, who moved from her home in South Africa to study for an MBA at Guanghua, partly because her fees were paid through a Brics partnership between the China Scholarship Council and South Africa’s Department for Higher Education and Training.
Ms Nkatha plans to return to South Africa eventually, but also says she might use her Chinese connections to find work with multinational companies working in Asia.
One option would be to stay on for a while in China, but she says she has struggled to learn Chinese. Classroom teaching at Guanghua is all in English. English is also the common tongue for the 18 students in the cohort of 42 that are from outside China, Ms Nkatha adds.
“We are in a global village here on the campus,” she says. “Even the Chinese students will speak to us in English.”
The use of English as a common language does not mask cultural differences, however, which is what attracted Jerome Wyss. He grew up in Zurich to Swiss-Chinese parents and became fascinated with China as a place to work when he came over for a launch event last year with his then employer MettlerToledo, a precision instruments manufacturer.
“I realised that the Chinese did business differently to the Swiss,” he says. “For Europeans the efficiency comes from the process, but for Chinese executives it is the other way round. They decide what the result should be then find what process is needed to achieve this.”
He says it was his fascination for all things Chinese that prompted him to enrol on the MBA programme at Shanghai-based Ceibs. Sahil Chugani was also less focused on the end result of the qualification. He was accepted in 2015 on to the MBA programme at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing with a full scholarship to pay his tuition costs. Mr Chugani’s strategy for mastering Chinese was immersion, using taxi booking and food ordering smartphone apps that require users to confirm their requests verbally.
“I went all out,” he says. “I told myself that if I could not speak to a taxi driver, I did not deserve to go out.”
It seems to have done the trick. He now uses the Chinese messaging service WeChat to send orders, in Chinese, to his local supermarket manager, who delivers the groceries to his apartment door. For Mr Chugani, the MBA at CKGSB was the means to the ultimate end of getting a taste of the world’s second-largest economy. He also wanted to be in Beijing because, he believes, it is the most entrepreneurial city in China.
Having co-founded online music platform Giglist in between stints as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in London, Mr Chugani is now looking to invest in Chinese start-ups.
“I never wanted to do the MBA,” he says. “I wanted to do China.”
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