The concept of corporate university (CU) in China is a recent phenomenon although it existed more than eight decades in the western world. Literature reviews indicate that CU is an independent professional-managed entity proactively providing learning intervention in the workplace. With the ownership of the corporation, CU embedded culture and optimized learning through commitment to strategic intent in order to meet organizational objectives. The concept of “training” has to be redefined. The major key role of CU is to facilitate both individuals and organization to become “efficient learner” in order to maintain competitiveness in the ever-changing of business environment.
Since the start of economic reform in 1978, the Chinese economy has enjoyed a dramatic growth. In 2002 alone, China attracted over US$52.7 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), surpassing the US. The drastic economic growth and the fundamental structural change in China as a result of government policies, globalization and technological advances will continue to drive the demand for training and competency development. Both local and foreign-invested corporations seek the CU concept as the strategic solution. There are many reasons for corporations establish CU; however, the primary one is to facilitate corporate objectives and support business strategies.
Studies on HRM suggest different models vary across different countries. A direct copy from western model might cause ineffective and inefficient. A comprehensive understanding on the CU meaning, how it operates, and its roles are important. In addition, consideration of local elements is necessary in adopting CU in China. Major Chinese characteristics with current corporate situation and issues should be identified.
Evidences support that the Chinese contextual variables and their CU motives impact the strategies and development of CU in China. Adapted from Prince & Beaver’s conceptual CU Wheel model, a priori China CU framework encompassed the unique characteristics of China is formulated in an attempt to describe the key functions that an “ideal” type of CU in China should perform. Based on the theoretical assumptions, the four core subsystems include learning and teaching process, networks and partnership, accreditation system, and marketing process constitute the main elements of the CU process. They work collaboratively with the common goal of supporting business goals and strategies. The two cultural elements, “guanxi” and “mianzi”, work as catalyst or lubricator to enhance the effectiveness and coordination.
The priori CU framework brings new insight to the CU development in China. Research is performed to test the relevance of this framework across the three major forms of ownership. To achieve the research objectives, an exploratory and descriptive approach is used. This study adopts a qualitative case-methodology based on the in-depth interviews, previously collected data through questionnaires and documentary analysis.
The three study cases include:
1. Taikang Business University (TBU) – a joint-venture enterprise with foreign investment; 2. Motorola University, China (MUC) – a wholly foreign-owned multi-national corporation (MNC); 3. X Academy, a state-owned enterprise (SOE)
To delimit the study, each case covers background information, its objectives and roles, core portfolio, and the relevance of the priori framework. Challenges and issues of each case organization are addressed as well. A cross-case analysis of the three case organizations is used to identify the similarities and differences.
The diffusion of CU practices varies with the investment form and the foreign equity stake. The study provides evident that both the MNC and joint venture case organizations with foreign investment are more mature in their CU process. The integration and coordination of the four core processes that constitute the priori CU framework are strongly evident. A hybrid model of CU practices is adopted with the convergence of practices from the parent country operation and the divergence of practices for the China context.
On the other hand, the CU development of the SOE case is less developed. It can be explained that most of SOEs in China lack western management know-how and resources. Some CU sub-processes or practices of the priori CU framework are either missing or too weak in the SOE case. It has been facing problems at the CU evolution.
Misconception on training, lack of support from upper management, lack of CU understanding, unable to demonstrate the CU value, ineffective learning process, and the cultural gap are the major issues and challenges for CUs in China. Improvements have to be made before CU can really take off in organizations in China. Recommendations with reference to the priori CU framework are made. Additional comments on CU strategies are given for local enterprises and the foreign-invested organization.
It is evident that some CUs such as Motorola University China (MUC) perform a range of strategic functions in China. Among all, it can be summarized into two major categories: developing people and developing business. Although developing people is the most common motive for the CU establishment, the CU strategic orientation towards market-driven and profit-driven is more evident and justifiable to most Chinese enterprises.
The CU strategies and practices are highly influenced by the political, economic and cultural characteristics of China. It would be difficult to apply a single CU model to all CU phenomena. Despite the limitation, the priori CU framework can still be used as a tool to describe the current situation in the CU scene in China. It encompasses the unique characteristics of China CU, capable of providing the direction to the CU operations and practices. This research raises a number of issues upon which subsequent research efforts can be expended as follow:
1. Besides the forms of ownership, other company variables such as the industry types, leadership style, corporation sizes, and corporate culture might affect the CU development and practices. Further, the CU strategies and practices are highly influenced by the political, economic and cultural characteristics of China. To what extent these contextual variables influence the CU adoption in China?
2. The major motive for local enterprises to establish CU is to drive corporate-wide initiative, reinforcing and perpetuating behavior towards internationalization. So how do the local corporations, particularly state-owned enterprise, change their traditional view to more global perspective in order to run a successful CU?
3. Different foreign-invested corporations adopt different local strategy. Some focus on globalizing the China operation whilst others prefer to adopt a complete localization approach. Does the local strategy adopted by the foreign-invested corporation affect the CU strategy and development?
4. The dynamic business environment in China creates a constant change phenomenon in corporate strategies. How does CU support the changing corporate strategies and maintain its agility? How does CU demonstrate its value in China?
With a large population, fast and rapid growing economy and constant improvement of its people’s living standard, corporations in China enjoy tremendous market potentials. CU definitely has an important role in China. However, a successful CU requires continuously learning and self-reflective. The evolution of CU involves ongoing values, trust, respect, commitment, integrity and enthusiasm. The priori CU framework, to a certain extent, can be used as a tool to explain the current situation in the CU scene in China. With more understanding on the CU practices and development in China, it will benefit both organization decision makers and educational providers to evaluate their responses to what is clearly a growing phenomenon.
Courtney from Study Moose
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