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Chinese millionaires taste life in ivory tower
By admin on 2014-12-02

BEIJING, Jan. 23 -- It's a typical day in the life of a Chinese college student: wake up early in the morning, wolf down a bland meal in a busy cafeteria, struggle to stay awake through boring lectures,and study hard all day, only to curl up on an uncomfortably hard single bed at night.

    It might sound like the uninspiring, hand-to-mouth existence of a young scholar, but it actually describes the recent daily reality of 30 Chinese millionaires. Private entrepreneurs from East China's Zhejiang Province got a taste of student life last November when Tsinghua University began a 15-day business management training programme for wealthy businesspeople.

    It was the prestigious school's first training programme exclusively geared to private business tycoons.

    The university has become a training base for private entrepreneurs under a recent agreement between Tsinghua and the Zhejiang provincial government. Similar training programmes will run twice a year starting from 2006.

    A great deal of public attention has been focused on the first 30 students, who were carefully selected by the Zhejiang government. All the participants were presidents or general managers of private enterprises, each representing a total output value exceeding 100 million yuan (US$12.4 million) and over 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) in annual profits. More surprisingly, the 420,000 yuan (US$51,915) in tuition fees were paid by the Zhejiang authorities.

    "It reflects the government's attitude towards the private sector. The government apparently wants to give it a push because private business is an important driving force of the economy," says Chen Zhangwu, professor and Party secretary of Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management, which is responsible for the training.

    "When many other local governments are being criticized for meddling in or even restraining the growth of the private economy, the Zhejiang government is performing the right role by providing services to enterprises."

    Zhejiang is China's fourth wealthiest province in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). Its GDP reached 1.124 trillion yuan (US$139 billion) in 2004, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. Its booming economy is now largely powered by private enterprises, which are still growing in number and size. The private business sector accounts for 70 per cent of Zhejiang's total output value, pays 60 per cent of its local taxes, and provides 90 per cent of all jobs in the province.

    University programmes are important, however, because many of Zhejiang's private businesses have been set up and run by former farmers, and most of them are relatively uneducated. Zhejiang entrepreneurs are often called "grassroots business people." About 11 per cent of local business people have college education, according to statistics from the Zhejiang Provincial Personnel Bureau. Nearly 80 per cent only reached junior middle school, or even less.

    "When China started introducing economic reforms, courage and ambition were what entrepreneurs most needed. Many successful business people were actually risk-takers," Chen says. "But China's market economy has gradually matured over the years, and now courage is not enough. Entrepreneurs need modern business management skills to survive."

    Ni Jie, president of Jinhua Luyuan Electric Vehicle Co Ltd, attended the first training class. Luyuan is one of China's largest electric bicycle producers.

    "My company has been pretty successful over the years, but I have also developed some stubborn ways of doing business. I need something to break the old thought pattern," Ni says.

    Ni says that he did not expect to learn specific skills or get a diploma from the two-week training programme.

    "It's just too short for that," Ni says.

    "I do want to broaden my view, gain a better understanding of the government's macroeconomic policies, and get a handle on the future prospects of the national economy."

    Some of the renowned professors at Tsinghua have helped the Chinese Government design strategic policies, including the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).

    The first course included classes on corporate governance, incentive systems, sales management and corporate leadership power. The millionaire students spent six hours a day in class and had to participate in group discussions at night.

"The students were keen to communicate with the teachers and we had very good interaction in the classroom," Chen says.

Some have criticized the government for providing free education to people who can afford to pay their own tuition. Critics say the entrepreneurs should cover their own expenses. The first 30 students did have to pay for their own transportation and accommo-dation, however.

"The government will not always pay the bill," says Cong Sunlin, director of the training department at the Zhejiang Provincial Personnel Bureau.

"This is just the start of the training programme and we wanted to encourage more private entrepreneurs to 'recharge' themselves."

Cong said they will need to pay their own tuition in the future and the government will only act as an organizer and co-ordinator.

"If the training can help Zhejiang's entrepreneurs improve the efficiency and profitability of their businesses, they can contribute more to the local economy and create more jobs," Cong says.

Up until a few years ago, Chinese entrepreneurs had to fly to Beijing if they wanted to take business courses, but now a number of training courses have opened in Zhejiang, Ni says.

"I often got e-mails or phone calls asking me to participate in training classes," Ni says.

Colleges or private agencies run most of these courses.

"Sometimes I really don't know what courses to take," Ni says.

But the training programme organized by the Zhejiang provincial government, Ni says, should be "trustworthy."

"The other students in the class are all 'big guys' and are on a similar level," Ni says.

The first 30 students come from industries including logistics, leather goods manufacturing, trading and construction materials production.

"If you are picked by the government (to join the programme), you must be someone," Ni says.

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