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Coronavirus boosts Chinese schools’ domestic appeal



Students now arriving on the Shanghai campus of Ceibs (China Europe International Business School) may be surprised at the normality. Social distancing measures are in place but lecture halls have been open for face-to-face teaching since May. Recent new arrivals on the full-time MBA programme were treated to an evening cocktail networking event.

Yet there is a difference, which is the balance of nationalities. Domestic students outnumber their counterparts from overseas more than usual.

Partly, that reflects the current restrictions people face in travelling to China. But it is also an indication of how attractive Chinese business schools have become to applicants who would previously have gone overseas to study business — a change that is being amplified by the coronavirus pandemic.

A decade ago, 10 Chinese business schools, seven in Hong Kong, were recognised by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the leading accreditor of business education. This year 39, of which 31 are mainland Chinese, are accredited by the AACSB.

In that time China has become a respected provider of degree programmes that are starting to influence the curriculums of institutions in other countries. 

Fudan University School of Management in Shanghai was one of the first higher education institutions in China authorised to run MBA courses by the Ministry of Education in 1991. Today, more than 3,500 students complete its full-time, part-time and executive MBA degree programmes: the vast majority are Chinese nationals.

The appeal of Chinese business schools to domestic students was already growing. But it has been magnified by travel restrictions imposed overseas because of coronavirus, says Lu Xiongwen, Fudan’s dean: “Students that might have gone to the US or Europe . . . chose instead to come to Fudan.”

Although Chinese schools can find plenty of students at home to fill their MBA intakes, that does not mean Chinese schools can ignore the global MBA market. Fudan strives to build a strong international brand to ensure that it can attract the best Chinese applicants, says Mr Lu. The school was 33rd in the Financial Times global MBA ranking this year.

Reputation at home is just as important when it comes to attracting Chinese applicants considering only schools in China. Under the rules of the domestic MBA admission test system — the GRK — a score can be used only once for one school application.

Chinese alumni find rewards at home

Even before the pandemic, increasing numbers of Chinese nationals were picking domestic institutions over more highly ranked schools in the US and Europe. Rising pay for senior roles in Chinese companies means MBA applicants no longer need to look overseas for well-paid jobs after graduation. 

The state has also played a part, says Geoff Perry, AACSB executive vice-president and chief officer for Asia-Pacific. “The Chinese government has been pushing to improve the quality of the higher education sector, which means that the sector is attracting those students that might have gone offshore.”

The growth in MBA student numbers is driving investment by the leading Chinese schools, such as Ceibs, Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Renmin University of China Business School.

Fudan is preparing to spend Rmb1.7bn on a 1m sq ft campus, four times the school’s current area, to add more teaching space and digital communications tools, as well as Rmb100m on online teaching technology, spurred by the need this year to turn face-to-face lectures into online classes.

“Whoever grabs this opportunity to reach students digitally will lead in the future of business education,” Mr Lu says. “Online teaching will allow us to reach students in other countries without having to build campuses outside China.”

Ceibs ranked fifth in the 2020 Financial Times global MBA ranking, its highest position on the list so far, ahead of established business education brands in the US and Europe, including Chicago’s Booth School of Business, London Business School and HEC Paris. 

© Alamy

One of the criteria for the rankings is the salary of a school’s former students three years after they complete their MBA. That is one of the reasons for Ceibs’s position, says Yuan Ding, dean of the school: “Chinese students no longer need to travel overseas to achieve the best financial rewards for their work.”

Down the road to meet the chairman

The school differentiates itself from international rivals through the content and delivery of its lessons. It uses the Harvard Business School case study teaching method of discussing real-life situations that executives have faced, but it focuses on Chinese companies rather than those from the US. It also often combines classroom teaching with site visits to the companies.

A recent example involved Shang Gong Group, a sewing machine maker near the Ceibs campus, whose chairman Min Zhang is an alumnus of the school’s executive MBA. Students “went on the bus to the company, where they got a tour of the factory floor and met with the chairman,” says Prof Ding.

“Roughly 60 per cent of the cases being taught are Chinese companies, written by our own [Ceibs] staff,” he adds.

Last year, the school agreed to supply HBS with Ceibs case studies that use examples from China. “Harvard now takes our cases for its case bank without asking for them to be independently reviewed,” Prof Ding says.

Nevertheless, coronavirus travel restrictions are creating challenges for Chinese schools because students either cannot travel from overseas or are worried about future curbs.

Ceibs has been able to circumvent this by teaching from its European campus in Zurich, Switzerland, as well as Shanghai.

Among those starting in Zurich is Pablo Pinos, who moved from Valencia to start a full-time MBA course — which meant quarantining twice. He expects to move to Shanghai before the academic year ends, which will require further self-isolation. But the inconvenience is worth it to be in China, a country he believes is more likely than Spain to advance his career. 

It is even more important to be in China now than last year, he says, “because you can see it developing faster after the pandemic. It is the land of opportunity.”

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Toyota faces Thai bribery probe over tax dispute




Toyota is under investigation in Thailand over allegations that consultants hired by the world’s largest carmaker tried to bribe local officials in a tax dispute, according to Thai authorities, court documents and a person with knowledge of the matter.

The probe followed a filing last month in which Toyota revealed that it had reported “possible anti-bribery violations” related to its Thai subsidiary to the US Department of Justice and Securities Exchange Commission.

Toyota is one of the biggest foreign investors in Thailand, where it makes a large range of cars, vans and pick-up trucks for the local market and for export. The country is Toyota’s biggest manufacturing hub in south-east Asia. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, car sales had been strong in a market, where it has a 31 per cent share.

This month, Thailand’s Court of Justice said in a statement that it would take action against any of its judges found to have taken bribes. The statement, which the court described as a move to “clarify facts” in a news report on a foreign website, directly referenced a tax dispute involving Toyota.

“If the Court of Justice has received information or explicitly found that any judge committed an act of corruption to their duty, whether it is about bribery or not, the Court of Justice will resolutely investigate and punish any action which dishonours judges, undermines the neutrality of the court, or causes society [to] lose faith in the Thai justice system,” it said.

According to the court, the case involved a tax dispute worth Bt10bn ($320m) between Toyota Motor Thailand and tax authorities over imports of parts for its Prius hybrid model. 

The affair dates back to 2015, when Toyota’s Thai subsidiary was accused by local customs authorities of understating taxes by claiming that the imported Prius vehicles were assembled from completely knocked down kits, or imported parts that were later assembled in Thailand.

CKDs would have been subject to a discounted tax rate under a Japanese-Thai free trade agreement, but if the cars were fully assembled before being imported they would have attracted a much higher rate. 

Toyota appealed against a decision by customs authorities to impose a higher duty in 2015, but lost. 

Thailand’s Court of Justice has said that it had accepted a petition to review the case, but had not yet begun hearing it.

In its regulatory filing last month, Toyota warned that the US investigations regarding its Thai subsidiary could result in civil or criminal penalties, but the company has not disclosed any detail on the allegations.

In a statement, Toyota said it was co-operating with the investigations and declined to comment on the tax dispute in Thailand. “We take any allegations of wrongdoing seriously and are committed to ensuring that our business practices comply with all applicable government regulations,” it said.

The SEC and the DOJ declined to comment.

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Boris Johnson cancels India trip after Covid cases surge in country




UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s trip to India this month has been cancelled as the country battles a new variant and a surge in coronavirus cases that is overwhelming hospitals.

A joint statement by the British and Indian governments said the decision to scrap the visit scheduled for next week was prompted by the “current coronavirus situation”.

The trip, during which Johnson had hoped to discuss the prospects of a closer trading partnership with India, was initially planned to run for four days but had been scaled back. The two leaders will speak remotely instead, with plans to meet in person later this year.

The cancellation came as India’s capital city region has been put under lockdown and authorities have prohibited the use of oxygen except for essential services, as the country battles a surge in coronavirus cases that is overwhelming hospitals.

India continues to set single-day records of coronavirus cases, reporting more than 273,000 new infections and 1,619 deaths on Monday, with the number of new cases growing by an average of 7 per cent a day, one of the fastest rates in any big country.

The surge is believed to be linked to a new B.1.617 variant that was first discovered in the country.

British health officials are investigating whether the variant should be reclassified from a “variant under investigation” to a “variant of concern” following the discovery of 77 cases in the UK.

“To escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it’s increased transmissibility, increased severity, or vaccine-evading, and we just don’t have that yet, but we’re looking at the data on a daily basis”, Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser at Public Health England, said on Sunday.

Officials in Delhi announced it would impose a strict lockdown for a week, following Mumbai and other cities that have already placed curbs on movement.

States are running short of beds, drugs and oxygen, leading the central government to restrict use of the gas. “The supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers is prohibited forthwith from 22/04/2021 till further orders,” the central government said.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, said “oxygen has become an emergency” in the region because its quota had been diverted to other states. He warned there were “less than 100 ICU beds” available.

The new restrictions have been imposed even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party have hosted huge political rallies and allowed religious festivals attended by tens of thousands of maskless people in recent weeks.

Amit Shah, India’s home minister, told the Indian Express newspaper that he was “concerned” about the variant and the “surge is mainly because of the new mutants of the virus”. But he was “confident we will win” over the disease and said there was not yet a need to impose a national lockdown.

Bed shortages in India have forced authorities to re-establish emergency coronavirus hospitals in banquet halls, train stations and hotels that had been shut down following the previous peak in September. Crematoriums in the state of Gujarat and Delhi are running 24 hours a day, while cemeteries are running out of burial spaces.

Coronavirus patients have also been struggling to access medicines. More than 800 injections of remdesivir, an antiviral drug commonly used in India as part of Covid-19 treatment, were stolen from a hospital in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, at the weekend.

India is also facing a vaccine supply crunch and has frozen international exports of jabs to meet domestic demand. New Delhi pledged on Friday to increase monthly production of Covaxin, a vaccine made by Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech, to 100m from 10m by September. The government also said last week that it would fast-track the approval of foreign vaccines in an attempt to boost supply and cleared Russia’s Sputnik V for use in the country.

The majority of the more than 120m Indians that have been vaccinated have received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab manufactured by Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer. The Serum Institute has struggled to increase its monthly capacity of more than 60m doses a month due to a fire at its plant earlier in the year and equipment supply shortages from the US.

Additional reporting by John Burn-Murdoch in London

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The limits of China’s taming of tech




The record fine handed out this month to Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant, was a welcome step toward combating anti-competitive behaviour. The $2.8bn penalty put Alibaba and other tech companies on notice that creating siloed fiefdoms designed to trap customers and merchants within their ecosystems will not be tolerated.

It was addressing a longstanding problem. Many of China’s ecommerce companies operate “walled gardens” that prevent interactions with rival platforms. For example, Alibaba’s Taobao ecommerce app keeps users from paying for goods using the payment app of rival Tencent. Tencent’s social media app, WeChat, prevents clips from being shared directly from ByteDance’s video-sharing app. 

Last week China’s internet and market regulators signalled the seriousness of their intent. They gave tech companies one month to fix anti-competitive practices, telling them to conduct “comprehensive self-inspections” and “completely rectify” problems, following which they would need to publicly promise to abide by the rules. The aim is create a commercially open and competitive internet.

It is tempting to argue that regulators in the west could take a leaf out of China’s book. But to hold China up as an example of competitive best practice would be to ignore the elephant in the room. Although Beijing is giving its monopolistically-minded internet companies — which are almost all private enterprises — a rap on the knuckles, it shows no sign of applying the same standards to vast swaths of the economy that have been dominated by state-owned giants for decades. 

The market dominance of these behemoths of state capitalism is an issue that affects not only domestic competitors but also foreign multinationals that operate in China. A trenchant joint paper last week from the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, and the Rhodium Group, a consultancy, took aim at the increasingly unfair advantages that this system gives China.

While it is true that China has opened up sectors such as financial services to foreign capital in recent years and allowed foreign brands to win market share in luxury goods and pharmaceuticals, broad sectors of the economy remain fully or partially closed or to overseas investors. 

Often the barriers erected to block or stymie competition are informal. Authorities can deliberately favour domestic companies in public procurement, are more ready to grant approval for licenses, subject foreign firms to arbitrary inspections or require them to re-engineer products to meet idiosyncratic domestic standards.

Such drawbacks are not new. But they are taking on an extra urgency as Chinese companies become leaders in an increasing number of industries and the country’s technological prowess draws level with the US and Europe in a list of industries. The key problem now, says the ECFR/Rhodium report, is that Chinese multinationals are using the advantage of a protected home market to build up resources that they then deploy in competition with western counterparts abroad.

This sets the scene for friction. China should extend its anti-monopolistic scrutiny from its own privately owned internet companies to several state-dominated sectors of its economy, taking care to open to foreign multinationals as much as domestic competitors. If it decides against doing this — as is likely — it will be furnishing Europeans and Americans with ammunition to argue against extending access to Chinese corporations in their own markets.

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