China's rise to become one of the world's major economic powerhouses has boosted demand for MBA courses among students, all hoping to gain the sought-after qualification and increase their chances of claiming a well-paid, prestigious position.
For many years, students headed to the United States or Europe to study, but a number of courses in China have attracted nationwide attention.
But recently, questions have been asked about the motivation behind attending such courses. Successful candidates can expect to gain much from their studies, of course, but some appear to have benefited for reasons far removed from academic achievement.
China's micro-blogging sites have been awash with comments concerning acting starlet Tian Pujun and her activities at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, which has campuses in Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The previously little-known actress achieved overnight fame when news of her relationship with one of China's wealthiest men, property tycoon Wang Shi, emerged on the social network Sina Weibo. The two met at Cheung Kong.
Such is Wang's fame in China, that when Li Chen, founder of the Web portal iguru.com, posted a photo of the couple taking the same flight on his micro blog, the item was reposted more than 34,890 times. Ci Bing, an editor at Caijing Magazine, later confirmed that Wang has filed for divorce from his wife and all the formalities will be concluded within the year.
All of a sudden, questions about why people, especially younger women, are pursuing an MBA have been widely aired.
"It seems that beauties can get themselves married to billionaires after attending business school," wrote Hui Jian, CEO of Shenzhen Huijian Internet Technology Co, on his micro blog, while a recent survey conducted by the news website ifeng.com showed that 50.92 percent of the 130,241 respondents thought Wang's divorce would damage his public image as a successful entrepreneur.
According to Zhang Lan (not her real name, as company rules forbid her to speak on the record), a sales manager for a travel agency in Shanghai, the relationship between Tian and Wang is not unusual. Zhang, who is responsible for organizing overseas study tours for a local graduate business school, said she has heard of plenty of romances.
"Each student pays about 100,000 yuan ($16,000) for the tour, but that isn't a huge amount to the students because most of them are well-off entrepreneurs. We often see couples who are mutually attracted during the trips, regardless of marital status. Some of them have even had children abroad," she said.
"But it is rare that the women involved come from show business. Most of the time, the new couples are both well-established entrepreneurs looking for a mutually beneficial relationship. Ordinary people can't afford the tuition fees, anyway," she added.
Blockbuster Chinese stars are obviously more than happy to pay the fees. Veteran comedy actor and household name, Zhao Benshan, actor Li Yapeng, and the famous Hunan TV anchor Li Xiang all studied at Cheung Kong. Meanwhile, the movie A-lister and camera-magnet, actress Fan Bingbing, is rumored to be looking to pursue further education at the college.
Of the students on the Executive Master of Business Administration course at Cheung Kong in 2008, around 11 percent were high-ranking government officials, according to the school's Social Responsibility Report that year. When Forbes Magazine conducted its first survey of EMBA programs at Chinese business schools in 2010, it revealed that 75 percent of students occupied positions in middle- and upper-management, 16.7 percent were company owners and 8.3 percent were government officials.
Currently, 9.6 percent of students at Chinese business schools either work for State-owned companies or belong to government institutions.
Social connections, or guanxi, play a huge part in Chinese business protocol and are believed to be a major driver behind many applications for the country's top business schools.
Xu Ming, who registered on an EMBA creative management program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, wrote on his micro blog that company owners enrolled in EMBA programs have a passion for private gatherings after class. One company owner surnamed Li managed to attract investment of 15 million yuan for his business from a classmate at a short-term EMBA program in 2009. Li confided to Xu that there are two kinds of relationships that can never be overlooked - classmates and comrades-in-arms.
The fees for EMBA programs at Cheung Kong are as high as 658,000 yuan for a two-year course. The W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance jointly launched a Doctor of Business Administration in Global Financial Management program in China in October. The 800,000 yuan tuition for three years of study is a record for Chinese business schools.
"China's rapid economic growth, the unceasing improvements in the business environment and the rise in individual incomes have all helped exacerbate the growing demand for branded education, rather like the need for luxury goods. If one takes a quick look at the growth rate of EMBA tuition fees at domestic business schools, they are far higher than the rate of inflation. One quickly begins to understand the success and expansion of business education in China during the past 10 years," wrote Zhu Ning, deputy director and professor of finance at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance, in a recent column for the Financial Times.