China to refurbish MBA courses

August 2, 2002

High-school students in mainland China have a grim term for the gruelling annual exams that are their passport to higher education - "crossing a single-log bridge".

With a pass rate of about 50 per cent, competition is intense, but what lies beyond is an equally tricky manoeuvre.

As China's "open door" economic policies have resulted in remarkably high levels of growth, demands on its population have changed and put pressure on the higher education system.

Spurred on by admission to the World Trade Organisation, China has been forced to confront the fact that while its higher education institutions may be enrolling 4 million students a year, their final qualifications may not bear any relevance to their future work.

China's MBA programmes are a case in point. More than 70 have been created over the past decade, but even now graduate numbers lag way behind the US for example, which produces in excess of 70,000 MBAs a year. Worse still, many of the academic staff are products of the cultural revolution, with PhDs in economic models that have ceased to exist. With little real experience of a free-market economy, many are reduced to reading prepared texts in front of students who regurgitate what they hear parrot-fashion in exams.

"There is a severe shortage of properly qualified professors to teach students, especially at the mainland's business schools, in part because they have little experience of a market economy," said King Hau Au Yeung, a doctoral student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"In terms of other social science research, knowing little about the international research paradigm is a major factor, plus poor levels of English mean that academics in China cannot keep up with developments and trends in the West."

The Chinese government is aware of the deficits in higher education and has been attempting to remedy the situation. In 1999 it embarked on a plan to build up key national bases for humanities and social sciences, which it hopes will expand good practice across the country by 2005.

"China's scholars in the humanities and social sciences have achieved far less international visibility than their colleagues in engineering and the natural sciences," said Rui Yang, a lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Western Australia. "The humanities and social sciences, however, serve as a more accurate barometer of the extent of China's progress in the internationalisation of higher education."

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