Dean decries focus on alumni salary rates

This boils down to the question of whether the ideas and values he professes can enlighten those around him and society as a whole.

The dramatic development of Chinese business schools these years is best manifested by the ever-higher rankings of their MBA and EMBA programs globally.

While these rankings, released annually by organizations like the Financial Times (London), give business school deans something to cheer about, Lu Xiongwen is one of the few that choose not to obsess over them.

The dean of Fudan University’s School of Management explained at a forum in June that an important measure of a business school’s success is the positive influence of its alumni and alumna, rather than better rankings.

“This boils down to the question of whether the ideas and values they professes can enlighten those around them and society as a whole,” said Lu.

Lu admitted that his own school so far produces few of these alumni, and he criticized what he called indulgence in self-promotion about the pay raises MBA or EMBA graduates receive.

“It’ll be misleading to continue to focus on this side of the story,” he said.

Business education is often perceived as a privilege of the social elite, and to be seen in this light is not always a form of flattery.

Chinese business schools rely heavily on tuition fees for their income, as opposed to their counterparts in the West, where donations represent a big chunk of their revenues.

Lu said that MBA and EMBA education, now a highly competitive market, prompts schools to adopt an aggressive recruitment strategy. This often sparks criticism from the government, the press and the public.

N. Venkat Venkatraman, professor of management teaching at Boston University Questrom School of Business, concurred. For a long time business education is reserved for a select few, and only the best and brightest — and wealthy — students can apply.

He explained that the philosophy of Boston University is to popularize this subject, and one big way to achieve this goal is through offering online classes.

Venkatraman believed it is incumbent on educators to encourage students to think beyond mere economics and develop ethical considerations.

At the forum, Lu traced the history of business education in China. Starting with Fudan’s initiative to set up its business discipline, business education officially began in the 1920s, prospered for a while, until it disappeared during the planned economy era after 1949.

The reform and opening-up period ushered in an age when management expertise is strongly called for to steer the transition of Chinese economy.

As a result, business education boomed in the late 1990s. It started by copying Western textbooks and curriculum, then a number of joint degree programs cropped up. The latest trend is that Chinese schools are reversing the knowledge flow, which used to be a one-way traffic from the West.

“With continued economic growth, management education still has many good years ahead of it,” Lu noted.

To make business education more accessible, and perhaps also to eliminate some of the popular prejudices against it, his school has been among the first to open an online course aimed at helping student entrepreneurs. The course draws an attendance of 120,000.

Of course, challenges are emerging. To begin with, a few business conglomerates have set up their own “business schools” to rival more established institutions.

Most notable among them is Hupan University, whose president, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, also heads the Alibaba Business School, a partnership between the e-commerce giant and Hangzhou Normal University.

Similar initiatives like Huawei University, founded by the telecom equipment and smartphone maker Huawei, also have turned up the heat.

Together, they are challenging the established format of traditional business schools like the one headed by Lu.

He believed that, in the future, if these newcomers are granted the authorization to run their own MBA programs, it will shake up the industry even further.

Deans today are facing a serious question of how to make their schools remain competitive in an age of uncertainty.

Lu dismissed concerns that traditional schools will be displaced soon. Instead, he welcomes competition from the tech giants, because challenges will “drive us to work harder and improve our teaching, leaving only the valuable content to our students,” he said.

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