Business degrees affected by anti-corruption campaign

Executive business degrees, or EMBAs, have traditionally been a money-spinner for China’s universities, charging high fees. But this year has seen a sharp drop in applications as an ongoing government anti-corruption campaign has curbed funding for officials eligible for the courses.

Universities have had to give up planned tuition fee rises for EMBA courses, despite the hikes already having been approved by the authorities, the official China Daily newspaper reported this week, noting that fewer government officials and executives from state-owned enterprises had signed up to study compared to 2012.

Tuition fees for such programmes range from CNY400,000 (US$64,440) to a high of more than double that figure for the degrees intended for working managers.

An English language EMBA, jointly launched this year by Guanghua School of Management at Peking University and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the United States, was charging US$150,000 for the 22-month joint degree taught in week-long blocks.

Recruitment for EMBA courses generally begins in June and July but the central government’s general edicts to cut back on unnecessary state spending has meant “many Chinese universities this year have witnessed a significant drop in applicants”, media reported.

The official Xinhua news agency even said in an opinion article that the drop in EMBA enrolment “has been applauded by the public”, as the programmes had become an opportunity for officials and company officials to “collude” at taxpayers’ expense.

Second and third tier universities have been most affected by the drop in enrolments. But even prestigious universities have seen applications drop, according to official reports.

Universities tout the programmes as a good way for officials to ‘network’ with businesses. Last year one in 10 students in the EMBA intake at Tsinghua University were government officials and just over 35% were from state-owned enterprises.

Tsinghua, which enrols some 400 a year in its EMBA, already saw a drop in its 2013 intake in applicants from large state-owned enterprises, and an increase in those from private enterprises, according to Yingyi Qian, dean of the school of economics and management.

While programmes taught in Chinese are most likely to attract government-funded students, Western business schools teaching in English have been keen to start EMBA programmes with a Chinese partner university because of the large numbers that enrol – in the hundreds rather than the dozens in most EMBAs abroad.

China Europe International Business School Shanghai normally enrols some 750 a year on its EMBA programme. Fudan University in Shanghai runs three full-time EMBA and three part-time EMBA programmes a year, recruiting more than 1,200 students annually.

Several EMBA courses in Shanghai taught in English have less than a third of their enrolment from China itself, attracting students globally and as joint programmes where students spend time on campuses in different countries.

Nonetheless, an academic teaching at a Sino-foreign business school and speaking on condition of anonymity said the Chinese government was “the most important customer” for such schools.