The China Curriculum

China Europe international Business School revises its program to keep up with a changing business world and growing competition in the field.

China is an incredibly complex and fast-moving market that is at once underdeveloped and hypercompetitive. To be successful here, a businessperson must possess tremendous flexibility and adaptability, as well as sound business knowledge and values. Therefore, to be successful here, a business school must offer a pro-The china curriculum gram that teaches more than discipline fundamentals.

At CEIBS, we began brainstorming ideas for a new curriculum in 2007, and we launched it in September 2009. The design of our pro-gram was influenced by three factor that have become integral parts of doing business in China today:

Keeping up with China. We’ve witnessed two profound changes: a rapid shift from pure manufacturing to a more balanced mix that includes consumer goods and services, and a shift from predominantly state-owned businesses to a growing number of privately owned ventures. We knew we had to upgrade students’ skills and abilities to meet the new needs of Chinese business.

Facing increased competition. Not only are foreign schools entering the China market, local schools are improving their programs. We want a program that lives up to our positioning statement of “China depth, global breadth”—and that helps us keep our place as a top international business school based in China.

Pursuing accreditation. We dealt with both these market realities while we underwent the exhaustive self-examination that is part of the accreditation process. This helped us realize that we needed to become more explicit about what our students should know about China and how we would assess their learning.

Forces like globalization, climate change, and Asia’s rise to prominence are causing all business schools to accelerate the pace of change

Our redesigned curriculum incorporates a focus on China with other key components, such as sustainability and responsible leadership, entrepreneurial management, soft skills, hard skills, and experiential learning. We’ve also added some flexibility to the program and integrated key elements to provide a curriculum that’s specific to our school and our location.

The New Program at CEIBS

The critical components of our revamped curriculum include these six elements:

A deeper focus on China. CEIBS now requires students to research a social or environmental problem of relevance to the country, then develop a business plan for a solution. Other mandatory courses examine China’s economic reforms, HR challenges, global trade, and political relationships. In addition, we have a weeklong seminar series each year on current China topics, and we require all courses to include materials relevant to China. Finally, Mandarin language training is required for all students who are not already fluent.

Soft skills. Not only do students take courses on cross-cultural communication and interpersonal styles, they must work in teams designed for maximum diversity. As part of a graded teamwork course, students complete a 360-degree feedback exercise, diagnose their team dysfunctions, and develop plans for improvement.

Experiential learning. We’ve strengthened our required corporate consulting project to deepen the focus on strategy, problem recognition, diagnosis, and solutions. We’ve also increased the amount of supervision to assure that students get useful, constructive, and timely feedback. 

Ethics. Ethics and responsible leadership are crucial subjects in the China market, where rapid economic development has imposed heavy environmental costs and caused massive social problems related to urbanization, migrant labor, uneven wealth distribution, and other ills. We hope that, by raising the ability of our graduates to address China’s developmental challenges, we are preparing them to address problems outside of China as well. 

Increased flexibility. We’ve introduced an optional summer internship, and we schedule elective courses at the same time. Students can choose to work, study, or take intensive Mandarin language training during that interval. We also added an optional final period of electives, which allow students either to deepen their functional specializations or begin work at an earlier date. Flexibility in the elective component allows us to meet the needs of diverse students and employers without sacrificing fundamentals 

Overall integration. Topics such as globalization, ethics, and sustainability have been part of our curriculum from the beginning, but now we’ve linked all these general competencies to our China-specific positioning. Therefore, when students work on sustainability projects, they work on problems that are relevant to China. When they study globalization, they look explicitly at China’s relations with other countries. Not only has this improved our program differentiation, but it also has allowed recruiters and our corporate partners to know what to expect from our students, leading to better job placement and other cooperative activities.

At CEIBS, we do a major adjustment of the curriculum every four or five years, and we introduce minor adjustments annually. But I believe that forces like globalization, climate change, and Asia’s rise to prominence are causing all business schools to accelerate the pace of change. I see the trend already at global conferences for deans and senior administrators. Sessions on sustainability and globalization are packed, and attendees who once were skeptical are now searching for input on best practices. I think it will be at least a decade before we can expect a slowdown in the pace of change.

Lydia J. Price is associate dean, MBA director, and professor at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.