“For any MBA student, the choice of school is a very important investment,” says Jane, a former vice president at Commerzbank AG. This summer she moved to China’s third-largest city to begin an MBA at CEIBS. “Being able to work with Chinese students allows me to be part of the training ground of the future business leaders of China,” she says.
Jane, who has UK and Swiss passports, is one of a growing number of European business leaders who are leaving the Continent to take advantage of the buoyant economic growth in Asia and flood of investment leaving China.
The US, Europe and the UK have long been a choice destination for Chinese students, but the tables have begun to slowly turn. The cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and the region of Hong Kong are increasingly appealing to European managers by offering unique opportunities to benefit from China’s economic position.
The trail of money from Chinese investors into Europe has left in its wake opportunities for ambitious graduates to lead the growth of products and services into Asian markets.
Chinese business schools, which profited from the economic crisis in the Eurozone, say they have revived growth in international applications. Their charge into the international education market has seen them gain much ground in league tables. Six Chinese business schools are now in the FT’s 2014 global MBA rankings.
According to the Institute of International Education, China now attracts 8% of the 4.3 million globally mobile students and is closing the gap on the US, which has 11% of the global total.
The stirring MBA sectors in Shanghai and Beijing play into China’s vision of becoming a lead investor in European businesses, many in countries which it scoops up students from – Spain, Germany and Switzerland are the biggest feeders. “It provides me with a differing perspective – one that challenges the known western ways of conducting business,” says Jane.
For Maxence Faignart, the choice of China came naturally. “For my company, China was one of the biggest markets. We had continuously increased our presence in the country and most competitors in the industry were Chinese,” says Maxence, a Belgian project manager.
He moved to Shanghai to start an MBA in 2014 after a lengthy career at Alcatel-Lucent, the listed French telecoms group. The transition allowed him to begin to learn Mandarin, one of the many perks of studying in China. He says he is not here to stay: he feels he can better leverage his experience in Europe.
Maxence is not the only one to draw up plans of a return to the European member states. Foreign students in China believe they can export their knowledge of Asian markets back home, and act as a bridge between the flood of capital leaving China and the western businesses with global ambitions.
Chinese investment stock in the EU has surged to nearly €27 billion in 2012, from just over €6 billion in 2010, according to figures from Deutsche Bank.
Several European brands are gearing up for rapid expansion into China, including Hermès, the French luxury retail dynasty, and Italian automaker Fiat Chrysler.
Juan Gonzalez, a Spaniard who worked at German engineering group Robert Bosch, says that after working in Europe and the US, pursuing a business education in the west would have been less beneficial. “Moving to China and spending 18 months in an environment where most of the people are either Chinese or Asiatic… It was really moving out of my comfort zone,” says Juan, an MBA student at CEIBS in Shanghai.
Data from GMAC, administrators of the GMAT business school entrance exam, show that in the years since 2008, German, Spanish and Swiss citizens have sent more GMAT scores to China than some regions of North American and Europe.
European students in China are able to benefit by showing employers a willingness to look outside of domestic markets. It helps them to stand out from the crowd.
The Emerging Markets Institute at INSEAD, a business school with a campus in Singapore, forecasts increased interest in hiring bilingual MBA graduates who can communicate in Chinese and adapt comfortably to firms with offices in both Europe and in China.
“A future where China will play a leading role, and where I expect to be a bridge between cultures – a unique profile that only CEIBS could prepare me for,” adds Juan.