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【Dean’s Column】MAO Jiye: Undergraduate Business Education Reform in the New Age

Time:2018-11-23

The age of mobile internet sees a myriad of changes in the twinkling of an eye. Against this background, business education draws people’s attention and has become a public hot topic. The sixth Tencent Business School Development Forum was held on November 11, 2018 in Beijing by Tencent. The forum, with the theme of “Business Education Reform in the Age of Mobile Internet” marshalled a great number of business elites who discussed opportunities and challenges business education were facing. 

MAO Jiye, dean of Business School, Renmin University of China (RMBS) delivered a speech “Undergraduate Business Education Reform in the New Age” as follows.

MAO Jiye, dean of Business School, Renmin University of China

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon! I’m so glad today to have this opportunity of sharing my ideas with all of you. I would like to talk from two aspects. One is my understanding of the current background of business education reform. The other is my sharing of four new concepts regarding business education reform.

First of all, let me start from background of the new business education. We’re in a rapidly developing age. Recently the central government released a series of documents regarding education. The Education minister Mr. CHEN Baosheng proposed “undergraduate-oriented” education. Colleges should return to the source of education. Minister CHEN also discussed what kind of talents we ought to cultivate and how to cultivate such talents. As a matter of fact, professors who are engaged in front-line business discipline teaching have realized the necessity of changing the training objectives. Cultivation of abilities on analyzing and solving problems as well as communicating and expressing outweighs knowledge infusion. If students with the above mentioned abilities, have positive values, they could be very good leaders in the future since value is the core of leadership. If we agree business education ought to cultivate talents with such abilities and positive values, let us ask business program managers, deans and professors a question: “how much time do you spend on cultivating such abilities and values”? The answer may not be that positive.

Nowadays, the subversive force we are facing is mobile internet. Almost all business is moving to mobile terminal. “Double 11” is coming soon. You’ll find nearly 90% of the orders are placed from mobile terminals. Against this background, the role professors playing in knowledge dissemination has changed. Professors were the sources of knowledge, were the intermediate agents between knowledge and students. Some professors doing researches were even knowledge creators. However, internet age is to get rid of intermediates. If you’re a teacher being only an intermediate of imparting knowledge, you’re more likely to be weeded out.

Next, I’m going to talk about population structure. Currently, most of the college students are post-90s. Two thirds of the 2018 cohorts are post-00s. Do you find their characteristics? They have very strong self-awareness, like expressing themselves and have more extensive knowledge compared with post-70s and 80s. They are keen on seeking fun, during which they sometimes surprise you by making some achievements. We must therefore consider their characteristics, preferences and acceptable teaching methods. The newest knowledge and the optimal business cases are updated on online at every moment, which is actually a huge challenge to us. This is the historical background of transforming and reforming business education.

As we know, 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of reforming and opening up. Business education in China has made great progress by far. Different from other discipline, business education started from scratch, made breakthroughs and obtained great achievements. Forty years ago, there was no such discipline researching market entities as business administration. But today we even have papers published in top journals of the world. The domestic top business schools are ranked within 100, MBA education in the top 50, top 20 and even top 10 in the world. Now, let me ask a question: which discipline in China has ever made such great leap-forward development? The answer is none.

Admittedly, we still have lots of issues to deal with. Enhancing education innovation is one of them. We have made lots of innovation on academic researches. But we didn’t pay sufficient attention on innovation of educational programs and teaching methods. Most domestic schools are still teacher-orientated and knowledge-orientated. MOOC and flipped classroom are not prevalent. Besides, the schools stay insensitive to social demands, technology development and market changes when designing training objectives.

The second big issue is to improve our professionalism in running schools. Currently, top business schools in China are making progress in professionalism by meeting requirements of international accreditations. Vertically, running of business schools has made leapfrog progress just as China economy. However, when compared with first-class business schools in North America, it’s easy to spot our defects and insufficiency in teaching and academic researches. We didn’t do sufficient adjustments to changes caused by market demands and national population structure. In the circumstances, corporate colleges are emerging ambitious to subvert our regular schools. Even Harvard Business School feels the risk as MBA applicants are gradually reducing each year. Battered by MOOC, Harvard Business School does not offer accounting courses any more. Obviously, business education in a new stage and in a new age, must transform and reform. The fundamental contradiction between changes of society, market and environment and traditional education concepts and teaching modes is the biggest challenge business schools are currently facing. We have to resolve the contradiction.

Will corporate colleges take place of the regular schools? I will give you a definite answer—no. Undoubtedly, changes of environment, population structure and technology, MOOC, flipped classroom would threaten our traditional education. Nevertheless, if we strive to deal with these changes, we would not be replaced. You may ask me how. The solution lies in how we shall proceed the business education. Many people have realized the essence of education is not just knowledge imparting. We are not running vocational training schools nor corporate colleges. Our schools are missioned to cultivate students’ abilities, moralities and positive values and to cultivate talents who aspire to change the world and benefit the mankind. The academic theories in our classrooms should help students to see through appearance to perceive the essence, to simplify and better the production and to know by analogy instead of just helping solving the current problems.

Corporate colleges go an opposite way from us. MOOC today is highly market-targeted. Though its various teaching methods make it much better and appealing than TV education in the past, it is more suitable to teach hard skills. As long as we aim to cultivate students’ abilities, moralities and characters and our teachers, school managers could whole-heartedly fulfill the goals, our regular education would not be subverted nor replaced. But if we do not follow the historical trends and reject any change, we are not far away from being weeded out.

Next, I would like to share with you what the “four concepts” are. As far as I’m concerned, the first issue the new business education reform should deal with is characterizing. Different business programs are supposed to have their own regional and program characteristics. Certainly, these characteristics must be in accordance with the school’s mission. It’s a big question how we cater to the school’s development strategies and in the meanwhile, form the programs’ distinct characteristics. Business education experienced “barbarian growth” period when there was no distinction at all. It’s the same case with our national economy before the year of 2015. In recent years, customization and quality are the main trends of the market. Similar with the economy, business education must reform and form its own characteristics.

The second concept is practicality. Different from humanities, science and engineering, business education pays high attention to practice. Business education is a specialized education and business school has similarities with law school and medical school in this regard. But how do we indicate its practicality? There are laboratories for science and engineering majors. The laboratory for business discipline is case study. Thus, the case center at RMBS is developing a myriad of cases by leaps and bounds. By analyzing different cases, students are cultivated to develop their abilities of analyzing and solving problems. A good case is scenario-based. Students could assume themselves to be chairmen or directors of companies. They would be asked to make decisions in difficult situations. In this way, students’ abilities are cultivated. Besides, enterprises visiting and internships are both good ways. Undergraduates ought to make full use of their first summer vacation. Through social practice, students are supposed to know more about the social market, their current skills and defects as well as their future job market.

The third one is interaction. All professors must make changes in teaching concept. We’ll regard a teacher as a director, a designer who would make a stage for students to study, interact and solve problems together. Specifically speaking, classroom is for communicating and discussing. We should reach such consensus to make interaction a method of education. This is actually a display of students-orientated education.

The fourth one is integration. MOOC though does not develop that rapidly as expected years ago, flipped classroom as an application of MOOC is quite popular today. We can learn basic knowledge, theories and skills by MOOC and then analyze and solve problems in regular classrooms. This is a method worth adopting. Overseas business schools have explored a lot about integrating online and offline resources whereas our domestic schools have a lot to do. In a nutshell, we must innovate and transform both in our concepts and also in our education methods in order to meet the new challenges in the new age.

The future reform should emphasize cultivation of students’ abilities and moralities. The teaching modes are ought to be changed. Professors who are good at teaching classes should be encouraged to teach more, who are good at doing researches to do more. We ought to insist on the central government’s concept of putting undergraduate education in the first place and taking cultivating talents as our objective.

Due to limited time, I must stop here. If there are any mistakes or errors in what I shared above, please do not hesitate to correct me. Thank you!

RMBS made the Top-50 list of MBA,
EMBA and EE programs——The Financial Times

Renmin University of China

@Business School, Renmin University of China 京ICP备05066828号-1