The horde of Chinaphiles stepped off their European planes in a rush of excitement. Grenoble Graduate School of Business, the French business school, had just announced their first intake into a new location for their international business Master’s degree.
Ubaldo Cuspilici, of the first Master in International Business Beijing cohort, had flown from his native Italy to the school’s Chinese campus. He believed that big multinationals would consider international experience as “added value” on his CV.
“I didn’t want to spend my entire university career in Europe,” Ubaldo recalls. “China offers a lot of business opportunities and I can make a lot of the experience – that only this kind of environment offers.”
The die was cast in 2009 when Grenoble announced plans to host their MIB in Beijing. The first China intake took flight in 2012, an extension of the program which was already taught in Singapore, the UK and France.
The announcement has since seen business schools scrambling to catch up and many MBA and EMBA courses are now delivered overseas.
Many business leaders have now been lured, who would otherwise have studied at Asian schools to develop a global repertoire. International exposure has become essential for today’s graduates.
A Master’s delivered in China by a French school? Why not. “Its reputation and quality is unmatched here in China, especially if we consider Master’s degrees delivered in English,” says Ubaldo, who fell in love with China after visiting with his family aged four.
“I was interested in attending a Master’s outside of my home country in order to enhance my CV. I thought that this country can offer a lot of opportunities for my future.”
European schools still compare well with Asia’s. Grenoble’s MIB is ranked in the top-15 worldwide by the Financial Times. Although there are some excellent programs in Asia, only a handful of schools make it into the global top-100 full-time MBA rankings – the traditional measure of global appeal.
Most rankings remain dominated by U.S and European schools. That dominance is set to continue and global programs offer Westerners with wanderlust the chance to spread their wings – temporarily.
Daniel Duric, a Swiss student who is also studying the Grenoble MIB in China, was attracted by the country’s “tremendous growth”. “I not only lived in Beijing for a year, but I travelled to different provinces within China. I have seen how things are constantly evolving at an incredible pace,” says Daniel.
“All these [experiences] are things that cannot be learned by reading a book, but must be experienced in your own skin. I am sure that these experiences would set me apart from other potential [job] candidates.”
It is easy to forget that, although the country’s growth has slowed, China remains an economic powerhouse. It’s little surprise that MBAs and Master’s students have taken such an interest.
A remarkable 9 per cent of Western European candidates are now interested in pursuing business education China, according to a survey by QS, reflecting its increased prominence. This is more than any other region, including Asia as a whole.
With the click of a mouse, Malin Teeling, a Swedish MIB student, consigned her immediate future to China with Grenoble. She sees it as a self-improvement experience. “Learning about new cultures will allow you to view your own from an outside perspective, thus understand its limitations,” she says.
“If you find qualities and values in a foreign culture that you agree with, you can adapt them into your own and thereby continuously develop yourself toward the theoretical end-point of perfection.”
Many other students are dead-set on careers in Asia. A European business school program delivered abroad offers the best of both worlds. “Of course it would be fantastic to prolong the experience and give the language a fair chance,” says Malin, but adds that she prefers the cosmopolitan nature of Shanghai.
“I definitely see myself working in China or Asia in the years to come,” says Daniel, who plans to first work in the Swiss banking scene immediately after graduation.
“Asia in general is fast-growing and companies worldwide must consider Asia as a market in order to be internationally competitive.”
Ubaldo is open to the idea. “Besides the understanding of the culture and business environment, I also strengthened my adaptation skills and I have proved to myself that I am ready to leave my cultural comfort zone,” he explains.
“If there will be the opportunity to base my career in China, why not?”
Students are also developing an understanding of China’s complex business culture. One Chinese word they will hear constantly about doing business in China is guanxi – which roughly translates in meaning to relationship.
Guanxi is about building a network of beneficial relationships. “This is important, as in Chinese culture it’s quite common to give jobs according to the ‘guanxi’, the complex system of interpersonal relationships,” says Ubaldo.
“Living here gave me chances, daily, to build friendships that could turn into professional connections.”
Malin has learnt from a micro and macro-sociological perspective. “I now have a better understanding of Qigong, which has taught me to appreciate the ‘balance within’, as well as the negotiation strategies tailored to the Chinese, which are vital for an efficient negotiation,” she says.
Yet the biggest benefit will be enhanced job prospects – whether you work in Asia or fly back to Europe. All business schools may ultimately have to provide a global immersion.
They are not the only ones to notice. European companies want to set up in the country because they understand that the market is blooming. “China is the only major economy that is still growing at seven per cent a year and, as a consequence, there will be a lot of new jobs opening up,” says Ubaldo.
“They [European companies] need employees with cultural knowledge to lead their interests. Even if I will not choose to live here, my knowledge could grant me access to various international companies.”
In a globalized business environment, graduates need an education that is a world apart. Ubaldo agrees. “My generation doesn’t feel Italian, French or Polish, but simply citizens of the world.”