Building a bridge between east and west

After the 2013 grand plan for strategic co-operation between the EU and China, the Chinese government began to promote investment in higher value-added sectors. RSM is preparing to be a source of expertise for doing business with China, and the school’s strategic moves towards this include a role for alumni.

Story by Justine Whittern

The “Strategic Agenda” in 2013 opened up the economic system in this powerhouse nation. Rules governing access to investments were relaxed and free trade encouraged. Although economic growth slowed in 2014, opportunities and stimuli remain.

RSM and other business schools anticipated this economic development would create a demand in Asia for highly qualified people. There would be a need for top-quality business education, and opportunities for collaboration between western business schools and those in China.

Adopting a stepwise, entrepreneurial and proactive approach to its relationships with Chinese businesses and academic institutions resulted in RSM appointing Associate Professor Ying Zhang as Associate Dean for China Business and Relations in June 2014. As an expert on economic transition and entrepreneurship, her aim is to help RSM capitalise on its internationalism and expertise, and to bridge the differences in culture and administration. Zhang’s impeccable credentials include higher education in China, and both a master’s degree in engineering and a PhD from the Netherlands. 

Low-risk strategy

RSM’s stepwise China strategy began in 2009 with the launch of an MSc programme in Chinese Economy and Business, a joint programme with Leiden University. Ying Zhang was its programme director. It was a low-risk way for RSM to have a better understanding of its brand impact in China – and the attraction it might have for Chinese students.

Since Ying Zheng’s appointment, RSM is building its reputation in China by forming new partnerships with local business schools to create dual degree programmes and corporate relationships, joining collaborative associations, and developing the China alumni network. China. RSM joined the Alliance of Chinese and European Business schools (ACE) in June 2013. This strategic alliance comprises 10 European and 10 Chinese business schools that regularly get together to share ideas.

Mutual importance

Such partnerships and collaborations will lead to extensive mutual learning, says Ying Zheng. ‘Not only are business students from China important to RSM, but the involvement of a highly ranked European business school in China is important for China too,’ she comments.

Enthusiasm and willingness is not enough, however. ‘Working on China-related ventures without thorough consideration of culture and social norms is harmful for an organisation’s internationalisation progress,’ she says. ‘It’s a long-term orientation, and you need to have a thorough understanding of the whole spectrum of both cultures.’ 

Double degrees

In October 2014, RSM went public with its China strategy, and a series of double master degree programmes were announced soon afterwards. The first was a five-year agreement with the College of Business at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (COB SUFE) in which students will follow a year of MBA studies in China, and a second year in the Netherlands on one of RSM’s MSc business programmes.

A couple of months later RSM confirmed a similar relationship with Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University. The two schools had been joint hosts of the former MSc in Chinese Economy and Business, and had been successfully exchanging students for several years.

Other double-degree programmes have been agreed with Beijing Jiaotong University, Tongji University, Sun Yat-sen Business School, and Southwest University of Finance and Economics.

There are other opportunities to exploit RSM’s fortes – RSM faculty will travel to COB SUFE to teach a selection of RSM MBA modules in logistics and international business.

‘Our modules will differ from those currently offered in Shanghai and from other western business schools,’ says Zhang. ‘We will tap into local expertise and relate to local businesses, and we’ll take our own faculty members with knowledge of China.’

RSM is also one of the schools providing the Global Executive OneMBA programme, which will send students to Xiamen for the first time in May. A consortium of RSM and three other founding partner business schools in Mexico, Brazil and the USA provides this programme simultaneously. 

Future success

Underpinning RSM’s strategy in China is RSM’s alumni network – their role is key, says Ying Zhang: ‘Our China-based alumni are very keen to contribute to our network through mentoring, programme involvement, projects and through personal recommendations. They have discovered that RSM, the city of Rotterdam and the Netherlands are great facilitators for their success, and our partnerships with Chinese business schools and with Chinese companies give further pride and recognition to their degrees.’

The success of alumni engagement is testament to Zhang’s passion for it, paired with RSM’s China strategy. As RSM prepares for its new cohort of Chinese students in autumn 2015, Zhang’s commitment to bringing China and Europe together and to research the challenges and opportunities is evident. ‘Our students and alumni will be the proof of our success – their active role in building the RSM brand in China is also the main way we can grow and sustain our footprint in China.’ 

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of RSM Outlook.

RSM Outlook , 2015 Summer RSM Outlook