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Monday, September 28, 2015, 10:23

MBA prices plateau as demand softens

MBA prices plateau as demand softens
(Provided to China Daily)

Liu Ming has an MBA in finance and securities from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. But he now wonders why he bothered to fork out 88,000 yuan ($13,836) for his master's degree.

Even though his salary has increased by 30 percent, the 31-year-old is still working as a human resources manager for a securities brokerage in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. He has been doing the same job for the past five years.

"If I was handed a second chance, I would definitely not do an MBA course," Liu said. "It's not worth the money, and I'm still unconvinced this investment will pay off."

"I did make connections during the course, but most of the people worked at my level," he added. "Of course, students who joined a year after I did have had to pay much higher fees of about 138,000 yuan for tuition. At least, I didn't have to pay that price."

Liu's feelings tend to reflect the changes that are blowing through the corridors of the higher educational sector. While MBA course fees at certain major business colleges in China continue to rise, others are stagnating after more than 20 years of growth.

This year, many kept their fees at the 2014 levels, instead of raising them by the annual rate of 10 percent. This new normal has especially affected Shanghai colleges, where the leading business schools in the country are located.

Course fees in colleges renowned for their MBA programs, including China Europe International Business School, Tongji University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Shanghai University, have remained unchanged from last year.

At China Europe International Business School, where fees have always been high, the 18-month MBA program remained at 388,000 yuan this year. Overall, course fees in China range from 45,000 yuan to more than 380,000 yuan.

"Tuitions have remained steady in recent years," Yvonne Li, MBA director of admission and career services at CEIBS, said. "Based on the tuition fees for 2015, there will be a little adjustment next year. Details need to be confirmed later."

According to The Economist business weekly magazine, CEIBS ranked 83rd in the top global 100 business schools this year. It was the only one from the Chinese mainland to make the list.

"Compared to other schools in the world, tuition fees at CEIBS are lower," Li said. "But if you compare them to schools in China, they are higher. Yet, it is all about the return on investment at home or abroad, and we have an excellent reputation."

As Li pointed out, leading global business colleges tend to raise course fees by between 4 percent and 6 percent annually. But since Asian students are more price-sensitive than those from Europe or the United States, costs have to be taken into account.

CEIBS also provides a generous scholarship program, with 10 million yuan earmarked for 40 percent of the yearly intake. Various loan plans for Chinese and international students are other incentives.

"The MBA program is a professional course rather than a compulsory one," Li said. "Students who apply for MBA courses have made the decision by taking into account their personal needs and the cost of the program."

"Prestigious schools will always be favored and, in my opinion, it is impossible for them to reduce their tuition fees," she added.

Competition is also helping to peg prices. MBA course fees at Fudan University have increased by about 15 percent on average. But the 298,000 yuan fees for part-time MBA students will remain unchanged next year.

"The program costs at business schools should depend on the value they provide," Xie Hao, executive director of the IMBA program for the school of management at Fudan University, said.

Still, like many other Chinese business schools, Fudan is planning to revamp its MBA syllabus next year in a move to attract more students. The decision has been welcomed by one educational expert, who has has been calling for similar measures in the past few years.

"Today's business environment is global, complex, competitive and dynamic," Tom Robinson, president and CEO of the Association of Advanced Collegiate Schools of Business International in the US state of Florida, said.

"The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform at a high level in this environment are constantly changing. Business schools must be engaged with business to make sure they are providing relevant education to prepared students.

"Business schools should also provide opportunities for students to engage with current business practices through experiential learning activities, internships and access to business leaders," he added.

Hopefully, more focused and cheaper courses will inspire students that have become disillusioned with existing programs.

In an MBA survey conducted in Shanghai this year by global recruitment service provider BRecruit, 60 percent of the 300 students polled admitted they were dissatisfied with the cost of the programs, and the academic and employment-related activities.

"Few things in life have a greater payoff than an investment in education in terms of the opportunity it provides," the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international non-profit organization of business schools based in the US, said on its website.

"But increases in tuition fees and other costs associated with earning an MBA, or Masters, as well as changes in the economy, may impact a student's decision to enroll in a graduate business program."

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