Executive education in China: What is the opportunity for UK business schools?


By Barney Roe, Director of Communications & External Relations, Chartered ABS

Last week I visited China as part of a UKTI ‘Education is Great’ mission. Our purpose was to meet representatives from the Chinese financial and professional services sector who, we were told, are hungry for executive education provided by UK institutions and training providers. I was struck by the scale and level of commitment China has to investing in training its managers and leaders in order to internationalise its banks, currency, financial and professional services. They want to compete on a global scale and they have identified the need for organisational cultural change and a more international approach to management and doing business as key to achieving their goal.

Our hosts treated us with impeccable hospitality and said all the right things in terms of a willingness to collaborate and an appreciation for the quality of provision available from UK institutions. As with many things in China, things sometimes aren’t as they seem. How real is the opportunity? And what obstacles may business schools face?

In keeping with how Chinese leaders structure their speeches, I will explore these questions in three parts.

1. The evidence was clear, the Chinese financial and professional sector is investing in its leaders and managers. Compared with the attitude to senior level management training in many of Britain’s industries, the Chinese approach to targeting specific areas of need is commendable. Their managers and leaders have skills needs in the areas of ethics, equity investment and FinTech. We visited the financial districts of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and each company we heard from, the message was the same - the training they want must support their internationalisation, it must be market-based, applicable to China, and localised i.e delivered with an understanding of the innovation and developments unique to each region.
Some companies are taking this in their own hands and it is very impressive. We visited the Bank of China’s own International Financial Academy, a huge residential campus with 76,000 sq metres of lecture theatres, classrooms and leisure facilities. Here they provide executive training for 3,000 of their own top managers each year. Yet despite the scale of the site they train only 200 executives on campus at a time, giving them the time, space and comforts they can afford to give them to develop. As with many companies we met, they are inviting international training providers to work with them to give their programmes the international blend they need.

In Shanghai we had the pleasure of visiting the opulent headquarters of insurance company Ping An in the heart of the finance district. In 2015 Ping An valued its assets at 4,770 billion RMB. It has 1090 million customers and over 1 million members of staff. On this scale you can understand their need for training and the opportunities for providers that can meet them. Again, here the commitment to training their leaders is evident. Within their headquarters they have a state of the art lecture theatre and a simulation trading floor. In Shenzhen they have built their own university – the Ping An School of Financial Services – on a 200,000 sq metre campus. As one of the largest corporate training centres in China its purpose is to be the “breeding ground of financial talent”.

To meet the demands of a mobile culture Ping An has also built an excellent mobile training platform which they have shared with over 200 other insurance and finance companies. The platform has 57,000 courses and had 2 million users last year. Whilst companies like Ping An and Bank of China have taken these initiatives they still talk of the need for international education partners to provide international perspectives on finance and management.

2. The business school market here is immature. We did see the new campus of Shangai University’s School of Finance and Management, ranked number 10 in the FT Global Rankings, but there isn’t a coherent business and management school sector yet. Their universities and emerging management schools remain very open to collaboration with UK institutions in a number of ways, including meeting the demand for executive education from the Chinese finance sector. However, having achieved scale in its universities, China is now investing heavily in raising the quality of its higher education. Their need to collaborate internationally may change in time, and in China, things can change quickly.

3. China has imposed restrictions on international travel for training for its leaders. This has already impacted UK business schools and it is increasingly hard. Whilst some UK based training contracts can still be negotiated, the Chinese Government want to keep the volume and cost down. Business schools are already considering delivering training in China rather than the UK. One senior banking executive did tell us privately that he thought that the restrictions could be lifted in a couple of years time but this was just personal opinion.

There are clearly executive level training needs in China, supported by a strategy for internationalisation and underpinned by training budgets…for the right partner. There are opportunities here if our business schools are willing to invest in building relationships and look at how they can meet their needs through customised programmes. Delivering training on Chinese soil may also be a necessity for some clients.

It was great to see some of our members as part of the delegation. It was clear to me that we should be mindful of the competition from other challengers – the US and German business school sectors were mentioned on a number of occasions by those we met. There are also some small private training providers from the UK doing a good job at promoting themselves and maximising the value of the UK’s brand and reputation for education.

The Chartered ABS will be working with UKTI to try to ensure that our members are aware of future opportunities for trade missions.