Differences in doing business in India, China and Germany start at University

Published in February 2019

Author: Scott Williams

China and India are the world’s most populous countries, representing more than one third of the world population and largest emerging market economies. Although neighbours, the two Asian giants could hardly be more different. I had the opportunity of living and studying for several months in the dynamic megacities Shanghai, China and Bangalore, India. In this blog, from my perspective as a German student, I would like to share my experiences and impressions from my overseas stays in China and India. During my Bachelor and Master, I have studied at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), Tongji University (TJU) and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB).

1.  Higher Education Institutes

1.1. University Brand
Compared to Germany, the brand of a university and its ranking play an extremely important role in Asian countries. In Germany, an HR person would probably ask “What did you study and how well did you perform?”, whereas in Asia the question would rather be “Where did you study?”. For example, I heard of many Indian students not pursuing their preferred degrees, because the admission to a renowned college was more important.

1.2. Admission
In order to study business at a German university, Germans have to pass the Abitur which contains grades from the last two school years and final exams in subjects such as mathematics and foreign languages. China’s equivalent national higher education entrance examination, the Gaokao (高考), is considered one of the world’s toughest exams and includes subjects such as humanities and sciences. To some extent, this single exam decides whether someone becomes a blue-collar or white-collar worker in the future. Candidates who want to study at India’s topmost premier management and business schools, have to take the Common Admission Test (CAT) which tests, among other things, quantitative ability and logical reasoning. While the Gaokao and CAT are uniform on a national level, setting the Abitur is task of individual federal states which often results in unequal opportunities when it comes to university applications. In contrast to the Abitur and Gaokao, the CAT is only valid for one year. Due to the enormous populations and limited resources, entering renowned academic institutions is highly competitive in Asia, for what reason, according to the most recent Global Education Census Report, many students in China (57%) and India (55%) take private tuition outside school. For instance, at IIMB, about 250,000 students applied for 400 MBA seats, resulting in an acceptance rate of far below 1% (Harvard Business School: around 10%), making it to one of the world’s toughest business school to get into.

1.3. Campus and Accommodation
Contrary to my home institution, both host institutions had a huge campus with lecture halls, hostels, supermarkets, sports facilities, libraries and mess halls which were open nearly 24/7. In India, it was fairly easy to quickly connect with many domestic students of different ages and degree courses since international students lived in the same hostels. Every student had a spacious single room. In China, international students were separated from Chinese students, and there were usually 1-2 international students and 4-8 Chinese students per room. In Germany, students do not live on campus. It is common to look for private single or shared apartments, stay at the parent’s home or apply for dormitories which are scattered all over the city. Since there are no campuses in Germany that easily foster the building of personal networks, students in Germany mainly interact with fellow students. A few selected higher education institutes in China (e.g. Project 985, C9) and India (e.g. Institutes of National Importance), receive special recognition and funding from the governments and therefore have an outstanding infrastructure. For instance, more than 50% of the central government’s funds for higher education goes to a mere 3% of India’s students.

1.4. Tuition fees
Public universities in Germany do not have tuition fees, only low administration fees of €100-200/year. At TJU, tuition fees range from €2,500-10,000/year, depending on the program. The tuition fees at IIMB are highest and amount to €13,000/year. Most IIMB students take bank loans in order to study. Nevertheless, due to the favorable return on investment, banks happily grant loans to these students. Due to the partnership agreements of the FAU with the TJU and IIMB, I paid no tuition fees abroad.

2.  Business Courses

2.1. Course Allocation
In case the seats for a course are limited, different selection processes can occur at FAU, based on speed, motivation, specialization or grades. At TJU, courses were allocated on the first-come, first-served principle, whereas at IIMB, students had to participate in a course bidding process in which a total of 1000 points needed to be allocated to desired courses over several rounds. Interestingly, many courses listed at IIMB did not take place, since a high minimum number of course applicants is required. In my opinion, this mechanism in combination with a transparent feedback system, motivates lecturers to constantly improve and design appealing lectures.

2.2. Course Topics
At all three business schools, there was a wide selection of business courses with specialization opportunities in areas such as finance, marketing and strategic management. Unusually, the IIMB offered nonconventional business courses such as the “Himalayan Mountain Challenge”, “Spirituality and Self” and “Understanding Indian Culture and Society through Cinema”. While my business courses in Germany mainly focused on European companies, the business courses in China and India mainly focused on domestic as well as US-American companies. Since the FAU and TJU represent full-spectrum universities, many interdisciplinary courses such as business psychology, corporate law and international relations were available.

2.3. Timing
The FAU and TJU follow a semester system, whereas the IIMB follows a trimester system. Lectures last 90 minutes and students usually take around six courses per academic term in all three business schools. In Germany, a lecture usually takes place once per week, sometimes with additional exercise lessons. In China, we had many block courses, meaning that lectures were held twice a week during the first or second half of the semester. Hence, in a short period of time, students immersed themselves in a limited number of business subjects which was beneficial for the learning experience. In India, due to the shorter duration of the academic term, lectures were held twice a week throughout the trimester.

2.4. Professors

  • Profile
    Contrary to the professors in China and India, the professors in Germany and many other European countries usually complete a habilitation thesis after their doctoral studies in order show that they can represent the entire breadth and depth of their subject as well as get a professorship with research and teaching activities. In order to become a professor after doctoral studies, other criteria apply at TJU and IIMB, such as prior publications in leading A category journals, the reputation of the institute and supervisor where the PhD was attained, and relevant industry work experience. In my experience, generally speaking, German professors have a strong theoretical background, whereas Chinese and Indian professors have a strong practical background.
  • Teaching style
    The German teaching style significantly differs from the one in India and China. At FAU, lectures are quite unidirectional and theoretical. Hence, the lecturers speak most of the time by using comprehensive and detailed presentation slides in order to provide the students with ready-prepared information. Many German lecturers use their own publications as lecture material. Lectures at IIMB are interactive and very practice-oriented. Teachers and students interact a lot, and case studies (esp. from HBR, MIT Sloan and IIMs) are used nearly every session. Lecture slides are less detailed and relevant information is often developed in fruitful discussions. Here, students not only learn from their lecturers but also from their fellow students. The teaching style at TJU resembles the one at IIMB, only with the difference that the interaction level is lower. Furthermore, all business schools invite guest speakers from industry and academia.
  • Teacher-student ratio
    At FAU, I experienced teacher-student ratios from 1:8 to 1:800, whereas at TJU and IIMB, the ratios ranged from 1:25 to 1:75.

2.5. Students

  • Profiles
    In the MBA program at IIMB, domestic students had 30 months of work experience on average. About 9 out of 10 students had an engineering background, mainly from leading engineering institutes (e.g. IITs and NITs). At FAU, at master’s level, business students from diverse universities worldwide had predominantly business-related backgrounds. Many bachelor graduates immediately start with their master studies, so the average work experience is much lower. Unfortunately, Chinese students were separated from international students in lectures during my bachelor exchange, so no information can be given about Chinese students’ profile at TJU.
  • Grade composition
    In many courses in Germany, students have one exam which determines the course grade. Sometimes, one or more presentations, essays and reports are also part of the grading. The same applies for China, but it should be noted that the relative weight of exams is much smaller, since presentations, essays and reports need to be prepared on a frequent basis. In India, the course grade consists of several components such as mid-term exams, final exams, quizzes, individual class participations, group class participations, presentations, reports and essays. The last system is best in terms of risk diversification but keeps students very busy all over the term.
  • Preparation and post-processing
    Since many courses in Germany have only one exam to measure performance, students are not very busy in the beginning and middle of the semester. In China, post-processing was important since we received a lot of homework. In India, both preparation for class discussions and post-processing for submitting homework were necessary. The workload during the term was high in China and very high in India.
  • Extra-curricular activities
    Besides studying, German students often have jobs as student assistants at the university (3-20h/week) or working students in companies (8-20h/week). Abroad, I did not meet students that earn money while studying. Nevertheless, being part of student clubs, in areas such as culture, business, politics, social issues, music, food, literature and sports, is common and very important for the CV. Although there are similar clubs at my home university, especially in the area of business and politics, they play a less significant role in the students’ everyday life.
  • Project work
    The number of projects during the term is medium at FAU and high at TJU and IIMB. In India, I usually worked with several fellow students on projects for which we had to cooperate with other students through questionnaires, and companies or NGOs through interviews. Teachers aimed at forming diverse student groups in terms of degree course and nationality. Usually, group meetings were held late at night for several hours and shortly before the deadlines. It felt like Indian project members were available 24/7. Although the scientific standard of reports was not high, plagiarism was a serious violation. Compared to the tendency towards primary research in India, I experienced a tendency towards secondary research in Germany and China. At FAU and TJU, work on projects were often carried out alone or in small groups during the day. In most cases, group members were freely chosen or randomly allocated. The scientific standard of reports is high in Germany and low in China. The avoidance of plagiarism played a less important role in China. The IIMB provided great facilities for group work (e.g. well-equipped discussion rooms and cafés), whereas the FAU and TJU provided great facilities for individual works (e.g. several libraries and “learning islands”).
  • Attendance
    Normally, there is no attendance policy at German universities because students are responsible for themselves to understanding exam-relevant content. In China and India, there was a minimum attendance requirement of about 80%, which was monitored by signing in at TJU and swiping an ID card at IIMB. Falling below this line resulted in a grade drop or failure. At IIMB, unannounced attendance checks were carried out in order to prevent students swiping cards on behalf of fellow students who were not present. If absent students are caught, disciplinary actions (e.g. grade drop, public apology, position loss in student clubs or, in the worst case, ex-matriculation) result.

3.  Exams

3.1. Exam preparation
The exam preparation usually lasts several weeks at FAU and few days at TJU and IIMB. In Germany and China, students tend to prepare individually for exams by studying presentation slides, notes and relevant readings in libraries. Although this preparation method is also applied at IIMB, many students prepare collectively by, for example, comprehensively discussing case studies in discussion rooms.

3.2. Exam
In Asia, there were short exam periods in the middle and at the end of each term, whereas in Germany, there is a long exam period at the end of each term. While exams usually last 1-2h at FAU and TJU, exams can last 1-4h at IIMB. All three business schools used multiple choice and open questions to test students. At the business schools in Asia, it was not uncommon to have open book and take-home exams.

3.3. Grading
The grading system differed among the business schools:

Scale (excellent – unsatisfactory)Pass grade
FAU1 – 54.0
TJU100 – 060
IIMB4 – 00.5

IIMB is the only of the three business schools that follows a relative grading scheme (e.g. no more than 25% of the section can get an A grade). Here, it was most difficult to get top grades. Compared to China and India, it is fairly easy to get unsatisfactory grades and fail exams in Germany.

4.  Placements

During my exchange at IIMB, all 427 MBA freshmen were placed within few, exhausting days. Over 100 national and international companies from different fields came for campus recruitment to find suitable candidates by interviews and group discussions. If selected students perform well during their internships, they have the chance to receive a pre-placement offer (PPO). Students without a PPO have to take part in a similar placement process at the end of their studies in order to start their post-MBA careers. This ensures that every IIMB student leaves the campus with a job. There is no such placement system in Germany. Many students leave the campus without a job and have to search for jobs by themselves. If companies show interest, selected candidates are often invited to in-house assessment centers. During my exchange at TJU, I did not experience a placement process.

During my academic journey through China and India, I made many friends, gained valuable life experience and learned much about the unique characteristics of both promising, unique markets. Each business school has its own unique advantages to prepare students for the requirements and challenges of the professional world. Living and studying in all these different countries helped me to see the (business) world with different eyes.

– Scott Williams