TWENTY years ago, people who earned an MBA degree were regarded with special respect in China. They were also favorites of local and international companies eager to recruit management professionals comfortable with the economic reforms and developments taking place in the country.
But now, it's no big deal if someone says they're doing an MBA because these programs have been fairly common in China.
What makes the MBA degree valuable is no longer its glorious title but the true skills - both hard and soft - that students can learn and use.
And that's exactly what BI Norwegian Business School, which runs a BI-Fudan MBA program with Shanghai's Fudan University, has been offering for in the past 17 years in the city.
As one of the top business schools in Europe, BI Norwegian Business School was the first foreign educational institution to get an approval from the Ministry of Education in China to set up a joint venture.
"I think it was a natural choice for our school to launch the program in Shanghai because the city is the financial center and business hub of China and Fudan is one of the country's top universities," said Sissel Hammerstrom, program director of the BI-Fudan MBA program.
Established in 1996, the BI-Fudan program first ran a master of change management program. This was changed into an MBA program after the Ministry of Education in China allowed joint-venture educational establishments to run MBA programs in 2003.
In the past 10 years, MBA schools and programs have been mushrooming in China, which gives applicants a dizzying array of options for advanced courses to acquire new skills and help advance their careers.
"Competition is increasing, but we are confident because we have been here for a very long time and are experienced," Hammerstrom said.
"We also have a strong partner - Fudan," she added.
Hammerstrom said BI NBS has a deeper understanding of China than other schools, as it has seen the process of the changing economy in China over the past 17 years.
Thanks to this experience, BI NBS faculties are very knowledgeable about China and the Chinese market, and thus can present Western cases more relevant to Chinese students, she said.
The BI-Fudan MBA program is a two-year part-time program that allows students to study while working.
BI-Fudan advocates MBA students have a job so that they can apply their learning in the workplace right away.
Students on the BI-Fudan MBA program are required to have a bachelor's degree plus five years' working experience or a college diploma and 10 years' experience in a management position.
These requirements at BI-Fudan are higher than usual among MBA centers and obviously preclude fresh graduates.
"To do an MBA is more useful if students have more relevant work experience. Besides, they can contribute more in class as half of the process is learning from each other," Hammerstrom said.
At the BI-Fudan MBA program, students also have more international exposure and can nurture their own entrepreneurship through exchanges to top universities, such as University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and IE Business School in Madrid.
The BI NBS now has around 20,000 students annually. On the BI-Fudan MBA program, the average age of its students is 33.7 years old, and nearly 90 percent come from foreign invested enterprises.
In 2013, the program plans two intakes of 120 students in two classes (June and December), aiming for 50 percent of foreign students to keep the class diversified. Tuition fees are 288,000 yuan (US$45,000).
"China is becoming more important. Many countries are related to China in different ways. Thus, a lot of foreigners want to do an MBA here and feel the Chinese culture," Hammerstrom said.