West and East: Chinese business students bring best of both worlds

Another trend is that the need for lifelong learning is increasing as businesses are evolving rapidly.

Editior's note: 

With more and more Chinese students and entrepreneurs attending business schools in the West, and especially in the US, they bring with them experiences and perspectives that enrich the Western view of Asian business practices. Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia is one such example. Over the years it has seen the number of its Chinese students multiply. Dean Scott Beardsley of Darden sat down recently with Shanghai Daily reporter Ni Tao to discuss these issues.

Q: How has the strong demand for quality business education from China changed the way business schools operate in the West?

A: China is one of the most important economies in the world. The rise of China has become a priority for all business schools including Darden.

So for example, if you look at 25 years ago, how many Chinese students were coming to Darden? The number was very small. Today it’s almost 10 percent. We have about 30 students in each of our classes, both first and second year, from China. A lot of them won scholarships. So now China is a regular place where we recruit students. By comparison, 25 years ago, not many Chinese students would look to study at a business school like Darden or even other business schools.

China now is very relevant for all business schools. And we have a great relationship with China, as well as a very active, successful alumni base here.

Q: What are the trends in global business education?

A: There are lots of trends.

First, elite business education is becoming more and more global. I think there is a discontinuity brought on by technology, where an increasing number of courses or tools for teaching are happening with technology.

Millennial students have higher expectations for personalization and for what they can get out of school. The way we see it at Darden is that we think of students as a segment of one. Each person has their unique aspirations for their own development. And we are trying to help every individual to achieve what they want to achieve.

Another trend is that the need for lifelong learning is increasing as businesses are evolving rapidly. So getting a graduate business degree is a starting point, but you need to retool yourself throughout your life.

Another comment I would make is that if you look at business schools globally, it’s a very competitive market, and there’s kind of an arms race going on to attract the best and brightest students.

There is a tremendous amount of infrastructure, quality campuses and philanthropy required to become a top business school.

As a result, I think strong business schools are getting stronger.

Q: With businesses from China and East Asia increasingly making a presence felt across the world, their practices have been studied more and more closely. How much of Darden’s curriculum now has a China or Asian-specific context?

A: Again I don’t have the percentage but every year we bring our students to China and to other Asian countries, so on and so forth. Every Darden student has the opportunity to study abroad as part of what we call the “Darden Worldwide Course.” We also have case studies that are set in other countries (outside the US). We try to ensure that the cases we teach represent the global economy.

Another way of ensuring an Asian context in the classroom is that many students are from Asia. Since we are a case-method school, there’s discussion in every class. As a result, all the students bring their experience into the classroom. So the Asian experience is present in every single class.

Q: Chinese business schools are catching up fast, closing in on their foreign counterparts. Does this mean the superiority of Western schools is being steadily eroded?

A: Competition among business schools is global, and competition is good. What I believe is that more American students should study in China, and more Chinese students should study in the US, because by living in another culture, you learn.

I don’t view universities as always substitutes; I view them as complementary.

It’s great that China is investing in top business schools.

Meanwhile, it is important for American students to study in other countries.

Business is global, and getting yourself out of your home country is an important learning experience.

Business schools are improving all over the world, and I celebrate the fact that competition is making them better.

So it is not a matter of one being better than the other. Instead, they are all improving each other, kind of like the World Cup soccer right now.

Everybody is trying to lift their game.

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