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How to plan a business school link in China

IN five years, the Euromed Management Business School has reached a threshold of 100 MBA students in China.

In 2003 when its cooperation with the Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University started, 22 students were admitted into the MBA course.

Since then, the joint international MBA program has had an average year-on-year growth rate of 36 percent. As well, a dual-degree Executive MBA program was launched in 2008, with the first intake of 35 senior managers. A new brand AEMBA (Antai Euromed Marseille MBA) is created.

The dynamism of this French business school is also demonstrated by its cooperation with Renmin University on two Master programs, a dual-degree Bachelor program with Tongji University, as well as some overseas Executive Development Training for Shanghai government officials and EMBA students of Zhejiang University.

The "Made in France" tag has significant value for luxury products and wine, but not necessarily for business schools. Despite the fact that Euromed Management is EQUIS and AMBA accredited and listed as one of the top 10 business schools in France, its brand awareness in China is limited. It is therefore interesting to investigate the key success factors of a French business school in the highly competitive Chinese business education market.

Leading foreign business schools in China tend to play the brand card. International accreditation and ranking are two jokers. This works, to a certain extent, but does not guarantee success.

In fact, a large fraction of Chinese managers do not know about accreditations like EQUIS, AACSB, and AMBA. You have to educate Chinese prospects in the international accreditation system during the marketing of an MBA program - extra work which will be beneficial for new competitors.

Some prestigious business schools tend to duplicate the existing programs from their home country in China, since they strongly believe that "best practices" are universal. Foreign MBA directors may in fact ignore an important detail: The composition of MBA classes outside China is more diversified, whereas the off-shore program in China is dominated by local participants. When Kentucky Fried Chicken proposes congees as the breakfast and L'Oreal sells skincare products based on Chinese ginseng, foreign MBA programs need to think how they can integrate a Chinese touch.

Co-branding with a local partner is inevitable, but should be arranged in a knowledgeable way. If the local partner has strong positioning, the foreign partner can benefit from the regional prestige of its local partner. Otherwise, positioning the foreign business school as the specialist (or leader) in a business field is a smart way of communicating. This niche market strategy can either be positioned by function, or by sectors such as luxury, media, or pharmaceutical industry. If the brand image of "specialist" is well established, the foreign business school can further extend to the EDP, which is another way to attract students.

Dr William H. Wang is associate professor of Innovation Management and Managerial Economics at Euromed Management Business School.


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