Teaching in China – some reflections

I am just back from teaching a four-day module (called IT management and eBusiness, though I might change that title somewhat) at the BI-Fudan MBA program.


picture2017This is just about the 15th time I teach in China, all of it in cooperation with Fudan University, which gives me some cause to reflect on how teaching in China has changed – all seen from my rather narrow perspective, of course, but still. Just as the Shanghai Bund view has changed (the pictures are from 1990 to 2010) so have the participants, contents and business environment of my courses.

The students have changed: In 2004, the age range and English proficiency of the students varied much more. About two thirds of the class had rather rudimentary English skills, I had to simplify the language, and the Chinese co-teacher spent a lot of time explaining concepts and partially translating what I did. This is not any longer – gone are the days when Chinese students would sit quietly and avoid your gaze. Now they participate more or less like students anywhere in the world. English skills still vary, but not any more than they do in any European country. The co-teacher (this time the very capable Dr. Wei Xueqi, left of me in the picture) still has one hour of Chinese teaching every day after I am done, but spends more time discussing and less time translating.

The course has changed: I used to lecture much more, focus more on basic concepts and methods. Now I use cases (five in this course, plus one for the in-class exam) and the students analyze and present, challenging each others’ conclusions. I now basically use the same teaching method (heavy on case teaching) in this course as I do in any other course at a M.Sc. or MBA level I teach.

The business environment of Shanghai and China has changed. In 2004, China’s business environment was firmly divided into FDI (foreign direct investment) and SOE (state owned enterprises) and the management culture, measures and methods were very different. Copying was rampant and you sometimes felt as if you were introducing capitalism to an audience where a sizable portion of the students were unsure whether it was a good idea. Not so any more: The students now all have experience with international business, frequently with much more experience than my Norwegian students, particularly when it comes to production and industrial planning. A larger and larger portion of the class works in service industries and in online enterprises, something which I have reflected in choice of cases and examples.

I used to go to China because it was different and therefore interesting. Now I go there because it is interesting – but not so different. At least not in the classroom.

3 thoughts on “Teaching in China – some reflections

  1. Capt. Vivek Jain( MBA 99 batch)

    Dear Sir, As your ex-student, where do the Chinese students stand on their ethical behavior? It is very important for managers around the world. And please don’t have to be diplomatic in answer. We need the answer on this from an expert like you.

    1. Espen Post author

      Hi Vivek,
      sorry about the late answer here, slipped through the cracks. I have no reason to believe the Chinese students are any different from other students in terms of ethical behavior.

  2. Dr Peter Morgan

    When I do exec ed work as part of my university work in China (I have lived here for nearly 4 years now), I find that I can joke the same way, ask questions in the same way and engage with participating managers in the same way as I would anywhere in the world. For the students, I had 300 UG Chinese students fighting to get to the microphone in an interactive class whilst literature tells us that students are passive, quiet and respectful. Give them the opportunity, the confidence and an engaging activity and they are no different to anyone else – except that they are fantastic to work with.

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