China Economic Review Interview
MBA News caught up with Professor Fiona Devine, Head of Manchester Business School (MBS), and Professor Keith Brown, Vice President of the University of Manchester, during their recent trip to Shanghai to open the MBS China Center in the city.
We discussed the school’s new Global EMBA, expanding its presence and network in China and why the City of Manchester is a great attraction for Chinese students.
MBA News: Can you explain the recent developments on the MBS Global MBA program, and what’s behind these changes?
Fiona Devine: The program was originally three years and now it has dropped to two and a half years. It is in the [first] two years where they [the students] do most of the coursework and different workshops and it’s the final part in the fifth semester where they do a major piece of project work. And that’s where we really press upon original thinking to get the students to put into practise everything that they have learned in the courses in the previous two years. That is a really critical experience as part of that program.
I think it [the change] is being led by student demand. They wanted to have a tighter program and it makes sense in relation to our competitors that also have a tight program. So now within the first part of the program, they have a very intense period of study, they want to make the best of their time and are keen to get on, while then at the back end of the program is where they do most of their project work.
MBA News: MBS is now launching a Global EMBA. What can you tell us about this program?
Fiona Devine: Well, the idea of launching this program is partly to separate it out from our existing offering, so our MBA program that we offer at the moment is for middle level executives who have got about four or five years of experience. With the executive MBA program, we are now looking for people who’ve got 8 or more years of experience so they’re really people moving into, if not there already, quite senior managerial positions.
So again, there’s a variety of courses that we expect people to do as part of the program but then there’s an extensive range of activities around it in terms of learning about new challenges within the working environment, about flexibility, resilience across different market conditions, emotional intelligence, networking. It’s offering a wider suite of activities around the courses that we also offer as well as that distinctiveness in terms of practice-based learning.
MBA News: How important is China in your considerations when designing new programs such as the Global EMBA?
Fiona Devine: Extremely important. As you know we have seven centers around the world and the Shanghai and Dubai offices are our most successful and we really do see these two centers as critical to our success.
So the Shanghai enter is very important to us. We largely recruit Chinese nationals that work for international companies to do the Global MBA and we imagine that will be the case with the Global Executive MBA.
MBA News: What is the goal for the MBS centers in the next few years?
Fiona Devine: We want to have a reputation for both attracting high-quality students but then giving them a top rate student experience so that they’re going out and they’re representing us, MBS, when going back into the business environment and that’s then, of course, critical for us in terms of our recruitment in the future.
We also attach a lot of importance to growing alumni, so the students that are graduating, they will be very important for us to keep in contact with them. They’re also critical for coming in and talking to the students that we have on our programs at the moment so we are really building up quite considerable cohorts of people that we have as students and then remain in contact with them after they have completed their studies with us and we will continue with that activity.
We continue to want to offer a very good, high quality product in our Global MBA so we want to continue to be successful in that market as we have just been discussing. We have just launched this global executive MBA, we’ll want to see that take off and build that up over time. And then we’re also launching a program, which we’re working with the Centre for Creative Leadership, that would involve a group of participants, I won’t say students because these a very high level executives, that will be based around four different locations as they’re doing the program so they will be based in the work shops in Britain and will also in the US, then they’ll be going out to Ethiopia for one project and then another project will be in China. So we’ll be looking to see all that develop and take off.
We’re also keen to be exploring how we can perhaps be doing more executive education through our global centres. So within the Manchester Business School, we have an executive development centre. A lot of that work is UK-based at the moment, it’s very prestigious. We work with, for example, BP, and offer a major program with them in collaboration with the faculty engineering and physical science where we do a lot of work on project management with engineers and so on. We’ve just won a major contract again in the UK to deliver training programs for high level managers in the National Health Service but what we would like to do is to use the global centres to now extend our activities there to be doing more executive education around the global centres that we have around the world.
Also, they are a platform for us for all different types of collaboration. We’ve got a close relationship with Tongji University in Shanghai, and also Shanghai Jiaotong University where we offer a DBA program. I gather we are the only university that offers a part-time DBA, which is particularly attractive. And so again, we’ll continue those collaborations and extend them and also be thinking not just about the teaching activity but also exploring whether the basis of the research collaborations here as well, so that will be important for us to extend that.
MBA News: Does MBS have plans for further cooperation with Chinese institutions?
Keith Brown: This is something that we’re developing all the time. Only last month, [UK] Chancellor [George] Osborne was here and he announced a major relationship between Peking University and Manchester University in genomic research, so that’s our medicine people and medicine people in Peking. So that’s very, very recent news. We’ve got all sorts of talks, relationships in areas like engineering, physical sciences, health. The Chinese government is showing more and more interest in social sciences, we’ve got a lot of capacity there, so there’s the opportunity to grow that as well.
So these will be evolving relationships and some of them will take time. Many of them will start around student exchanges et cetera and develop from that right through into full-blown research collaborations, so there’s a huge amount of potential there. And I think, too, what we’d like to see longer term is more UK students coming over to China as well as Chinese students going over to the UK and I think there’s more of our staff coming over and spending some time in China.
MBA News: MBS China Centre was launched in 2008. What are your expectations for the China Center for the next five years?
Keith Brown: Well, see, when I came here last year, there was a smaller centre about less than half the size of this one, which had been running for four years. Now we’re in a nice big shinny new one and in five years, we’ll need another floor. I think to some extent, we can plan for a bit of growth but we’re mustn’t exceed ourselves and get carried away with overflowing admissions, but there’s no reason why the China centre here in Shanghai, or indeed the one down in Hong Kong, can’t get bigger.
As long as it gets bigger, they’re getting better because for the university’s reputation is absolutely essential so if you lose the reputation, you’re in trouble, so for us the quality is more important than the quantity. It’d be nice to see more students and obviously to see more revenue, to see more alumni, but more than anything else, we want to be known by employers that our graduates are the best in the market and we want our students to be going out there and saying, ‘yes, I had the best experience possible.’
MBA News: As the vice president of the University of Manchester, what is your most challenging job? And what’s the most enjoyable part of your work?
Keith Brown: Finding enough resources to bundle the fantastic things that my colleagues want to do. I mean, one of the great things about university is you’re working in a very creative environment. It’s just buzzing with people with good ideas whether it’s a new course that they want to teach or different ways of teaching or some new research venture, whether it’s individual work or collaborative work. All that requires money. Universities do their best to generate money but sometimes you’ve got to make quite tough decisions so it that can be a challenging bit of it. Do you back this particular research group or that one or do you put money into developing a distance-learning course here or there or whatever? I guess like any big organization, those are the sorts of difficulties senior managers have backing horses, if you like, and placing bets.
The most enjoyable bit is when people succeed in doing what they set out to do, whether that’s a student who comes to the university and three years later, graduates, they’re going off to get a good job, or whether that’s a colleague who’s discovered something or finished a book or won a research contract or whatever and seeing these things through thinking that’s what universities are here for, all the time being caught up in keeping the machine going, but actually what it’s about is allowing people to live their dreams, I guess, whether that’s a student or a professor, it doesn’t matter, they’re all pursuing some sort of dream.
MBA News: Students from China on the MBS programs have the opportunity to visit other centers in the MBS network. How do you attract Chinese students to visit Manchester?
Fiona Devine: I’m not sure we have to attract students to come to Manchester. As part of the program there is always an emphasis on how participants are being exposed to a global environment and if you are working in a business environment you have to understand foreign cultures and it is very important to do so. There is actually a lot of movement and it’s actually a very popular part of the program and attracts students to the program in the first place.
Keith Brown: Leaving aside the specific program there is just short of 3,000 Chinese students in Manchester University at this moment so that university actually has the highest number of Chinese students in the UK. So there is no difficulty in attracting Chinese students to come to Manchester; it’s a dynamic and exciting city and it seems somewhere where Chinese students feel very much at home.
Fiona Devine: Many of those [Chinese] will be students at MBS as well, often doing undergraduate degrees but also we have at MBS something like 22 specialist masters degrees and we have huge numbers of students again from China and of course elsewhere coming to do those programs as well. And also then coming back to China and getting high level jobs at both multinationals and Chinese companies.