Business schools are responding to the increasing lack of Chinese markets. 

With the flow of Chinese students slowing, the teaching focus in the executive education field faces a challenge. 

“Senior leadership in the business world has really have had an abrupt reminder that its knowledge base needs to be more holistic rather than just viewing countries like China as an eternal customer for everything we send them,” says Professor Clinton Free from the University of Sydney Business School. 

“In the executive education field, we’ve had to be ahead of that curve, and help equip business with the skill sets they need.

“If we’re talking about China’s increased assertiveness, for example, I think that has been a key realisation for our CEO class in this country, that if they’re not attendant to potential shifts in China, they’re hugely exposed. 

“The narrative around China has changed, and having a nuanced understanding of that narrative is really important for our industry leaders.”

Dr Free says diversification was allowed to be neglected while China became Australia’s major market.

“In our courses, we’re trying to get executives to think about five to ten years from now, and what will markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam – and obviously India as well – look like for us,” he said. 

“We see a bit of lazy thinking, that India will simply replace China – that we will be able to just move on and find the next big emerging economy and hitch our wagon to it. It won’t just be that step change. 

“It’s going to be a much more complex process, and it’s more likely to be a constellation of smaller markets that Australia is going to have to have, rather than one major one.”

Vivek Chaudhri from the Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne says business schools need to understand individual countries.

“We’ve always had an overlay of the kind of geopolitical realities in which business takes place,” he has told reporters.

“Obviously with Australia as a trade-oriented economy there has always been a strong focus on the importance of the geopolitical lens by which you look at things such as the global trade agreements, the changing nature of bilateral trade agreements, what’s happening with Brexit and US-China relations and what that does for Australia businesses, but what the last year or so has highlighted is the need to be even more explicit about how politics and business interplay.

“For all of the talk of globalisation, the reality is that business gets done differently in different locations based on social norms and cultural factors and local business systems, and Australia’s interaction with these factors continues to evolve,” Dr Chaudhri says.

Professor Free says Australia’s universities looking for a presence in other markets will need to rely on technology, accelerated by COVID-19, to help. 

“I think there is scope for doing some novel things in places like Indonesia, and the Australian universities have to lift their game in doing that,” he said.