Shaun Rein

China’s universities might be churning out millions of engineers, real innovative enterprises are led by US-educated returnees, writes business analyst Shaun Rein in CNBC. He disagrees with Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa who fears China’s education.

Over one million Chinese have studied abroad in the last 30 years, of whom only about 30 percent have returned to China, precisely because the country’s higher education system is outdated and does not adequately prepare people to think analytically and creatively in a globalized business world.

Large class sizes, curricula based on rote memorization, and practically no room for electives are some of the obstacles in the way of creating the intellectual climate needed to breed independent and innovative thinkers. Unless China significantly changes its higher education system, true innovation will be hampered in the country. Sure, there will be great entrepreneurs that can grow businesses globally, or adapt to the local domestic market, but few will be able to develop technologies that will change the world.

Wadhwa also makes the mistake of overestimating the drive of many young Chinese. He argues that they, unlike older generations, are risk takers and no longer want to work in stodgy old state-owned enterprises or multinational firms. He concludes they want to work in start-ups.

Research suggests otherwise. A decade ago, top Chinese graduates wanted to work for Western brands like P&G, Coca-Cola, and IBM. Today young graduates look for jobs in Chinese firms, but in only the big private enterprises like Netease, Shanda, and Ctrip that offer stability and hefty stock options as perks.

More in CNBC

Shaun Rein is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch.

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