The Rise of Business Analytics with Chinese Applicants

Guodong Xu

Guodong Xu - AACSB International

Guodong Xu is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the Regional Head of East Asia at AACSB International.

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The full name of MBA is, of course, the "Master of Business Administration." Henry Mintzberg, one of Canada's leading management scholars, published the book Managers, Not MBAs in 2004, which contains his comments on management education, specifically MBA education. He argued that many MBA programs tend to recruit young, inexperienced students who have a harder time mastering the art or skill of management, and so have to emphasize the science of management through analytical and technical forms. His views have been applauded by many in the industry.

The other “MBA” – Master of Business Analytics

Yet today, influenced by the digital wave, the society's demand for management education in analytics and technology seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. According to a report from McKinsey, the United States is currently projected to have a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with data analytics skills. According to the current economic situation, the demand for people with data analytics skills will increase, the salary of such talents will rise with the scarcity of talents, and the distribution and functional areas in employment will also be very diverse.

In this context, Business Analytics and similar programs in the United States have witnessed explosive growth in recent years, and most business schools have launched Master of Business Analytics education programs; while the number of programs continues to grow, most of the existing programs are expanding and further subdividing into different specialized directions (e.g. data analytics programs in finance, human resources, marketing, supply chain, etc.), with a trend of catching up with MBA education. Coincidentally, the acronym for Master of Business Analytics is also MBA, but the difference is that the A in MBA stands for Administrators, while the A in Master of Business Analytics stands for Analytics, i.e., MBA, Not Administrators!

US Master of Business Analytics programs are increasingly popular with Chinese applicants

The Master of Business Analytics program is popular not only among domestic students in the United States, but also among international students. Part of the reason is that Business Analytics belongs to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field and will provide up to three years of Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities in the US after graduation, which is very helpful for applying for a US H-1B work visa.

According to the statistics of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), among the programs that Chinese students applied for with GMAT scores in recent years, Master of Business Analytics program surpassed Master of Accounting, the one-year MBA and Master of Marketing programs, to rank fourth after Master of Finance, Master of Management and the two-year MBA programs. If we consider the similarity between Master in Management and the two-year MBA programs in terms of audience and course content, Master of Business Analytics program has actually stepped into the top three hottest business majors in terms of applications.

Why Master of Business Analytics education hasn’t seen the same grown in China

On the contrary, the Master of Business Analytics education in China seems to be different from that in the United States and is still relatively quiet. In my opinion, this is due to a number of reasons. On the one hand, China's business "integration education," especially the ability of multi-disciplinary integration, is yet to be strengthened. Traditionally, business majors such as strategic management, accounting and finance, marketing management, and human resource management belong to the academic discipline of business administration, while majors related to data statistics and operation analytics are classified in the academic discipline of management science and engineering, according to the classification of disciplines in China. Among the faculty of core business administration courses, there is a relative lack of faculty with backgrounds in data analytics-related disciplines, and a consequent lack of ability and willingness to integrate education across disciplines (though things are changing).

On the other hand (or perhaps more importantly), among the 40 Professional Master’s Degree Programs in China, the most relevant degree to business analytics is the Master of Applied Statistics, but this professional degree category is relatively unpopular. Compared with the more popular professional degree programs such as MBA and Master of Accounting, Master of Applied Statistics program is more "academic" from the entrance examination to the curriculum, and the professional threshold is higher, which seems to welcome students who have already laid the foundation of statistics at the undergraduate level, with a relatively limited audience, although they are all professional degrees. 

For example, the Master’s Degree Program in Data Science and Business Analytics at the School of Management of Fudan University, which grants a professional Master's Degree in Applied Statistics (data science and business analytics), admitted 40-50 students for the first time in 2020 (the first enrollment year, same below), targeting fresh undergraduates and mainly recommended exam-waiver students, requiring students to have strong mathematical and scientific foundations and computer programming skills.

In this context, combining business analytics or data analytics with other "popular" professional degree categories to become a specialized direction under this professional degree program has become a more feasible option. These "associated" professional degrees include Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc), Master of Finance (MF), Master of Engineering Management (MEM), and so on.

In order to highlight the characteristics, some institutions have deliberately avoided the name of the actual professional degree conferred in the program design and enrollment promotion, and directly named the degree program after Business Analytics, such as the Master of Business Analytics program of the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University, which is actually a specialty relying on the Master of Finance (MF) degree and has the first class being enrolled in 2019. Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management also launched a master's program in Advanced Financial Management and Big Data in 2020, and students will be awarded with a Master's Degree in Professional Accounting (MPAcc) from the school upon graduation, which included the program as one of its specialties.

Coincidentally, both Peking University and Fudan University have separate and independent departments on statistics in their schools of management, in addition to their impressive brand names, and both schools have a long history of development and their own leaders in statistics, which is uncommon in China's domestic management schools. And Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management has strength in statistics and metrics to such a point that most domestic universities in China can only expect it, although it does not have a separate department on statistics.

Sino-foreign cooperative education

The lack of supply of such programs in Chinese colleges and universities and the challenges posed by the pandemic to the overseas study market have left enough market space for a master's program in business analytics through Sino-foreign cooperative education.

“Sino-foreign cooperative education" is a form of higher education operation adopted by China to attract overseas high-quality educational resources and improve the level of teaching programs in domestic colleges and universities, which is a useful supplement to China's local higher education market; specifically, it can be divided into "Sino-foreign cooperative education institutions" and "Sino-foreign cooperative education programs." Since they are not affected by China's restrictions on the institutions' own professional degree categories, they show more flexibility and contemporary characteristics in terms of academic major settings.

Some of the more influential programs offered by Sino-foreign cooperative education institutions include the MSC Business Analytics Program at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (2015) and the MS in Data Analytics & Business Computing Program at NYU Shanghai (2019); the main Sino-foreign cooperative education programs include the Tsinghua-Columbia Master's Degree Program in Business Analytics (2016), the Master's Degree Program in Accounting Data Analytics at Shanghai National Accounting Institute-Arizona State University (2019), and the Master's Degree Program in Business Analytics at University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences-Tulane University (2022).

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The curriculum of these programs originates from overseas, and their counterparts can be found in the main campus of their overseas partner institutions; meanwhile, the Chinese partner institutions have incorporated certain local elements, making them a new option for "studying abroad without leaving home" during the pandemic.

Deciding if a Master of Business Analytics is right for you

Applicants seeking further business education need to make a rational choice among the options mentioned above, taking into account their future career plans.

In terms of business analytics education, overseas institutions have a wider range of options and a longer history of such programs; for those applicants who have a job, business analytics degree programs in the form of Sino-foreign cooperation offer a friendlier option.

If an applicant focuses on applying for a professional degree program at a domestic institution, he or she can find a suitable option from the specialized directions under other relevant degree programs, although there is no direct business analytics degree available.

The domestic market for Master of Business Analytics education in China is booming. Despite the educational regulatory environment and subject classification settings, the market demand still exists, and various higher education institutions in China and abroad are doing their best to take a preemptive opportunity and get a share of this very promising educational market segment.

Just like the market of the MBA education, Professor Henry Mintzberg rationally believes that MBA graduates are not equal to qualified managers, and only time may tell whether future business analytics graduates will face the same question; however, it is certain that the era when MBA and business education emphasized on management knowledge inculcation and did not focus on analytical literacy is gone.

Message from the Contributor:

This article is purely based on my personal views, cannot represent any official standpoint of the organization I serve and the platform releasing this article. The programs and admissions information being mentioned in this article has been carefully probed and checked, but there might still be deviation from the facts. Please correct me if you find it.

Thanks for Mr. Li Xu (Paul)’s contribution for the information collection and viewpoint formation of this article.

Guodong Xu

Guodong Xu - AACSB International

Guodong Xu is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the Regional Head of East Asia at AACSB International. He has more than 15 years professional experience in both business education and membership organizations. Previously he was MBA Program Directors at two renowned business schools (AACSB accredited) in China. He is an experienced and well-connected professional in the education market, and an advocate for future-proof business & accounting education.

 

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