BJCG Article: Counterfeiting – Supply and Demand Analysis

When does something real become counterfeit?

Cecilia Fan looks at the powerful forces of supply and demand, and how they have driven counterfeiting concepts and practices into societies – both inside and outside of China. When it comes to counterfeit goods, demand seems to always push supply.

People like to own precious things. Nowadays though, even expensive luxury brands can seem common and “nouveau riche”. If you own too many high-end brands, it can be akin to telling the world that you live in a cultural desert, flush with cash but short on individuality.

Antiques are a better choice – they appear both tasteful and precious. However, genuine antiques do not come cheaply, and thus, the ever adaptable and entrepreneurial Chinese have responded, and a new industry has sprung up – entrepreneurs, technicians and even archaeologists have created a “reproduction” industry, replicating and even mass producing “antiques”.

Another trend that I’ve recently noticed is the demand for overseas-educated talent. Without looking too hard, one can easily spot dozens of organizations, all seeking the same thing – Chinese staff with overseas degrees, preferably masters level, and without quite knowing it, the market has created a forceful mirage that an overseas education is always worth more than a domestic education.

This has proven to be a fantastic opportunity for many people up and down the food chain. Overseas education institutions are rushing to develop for-profit programs, competing to see who can produce an overseas degree program in the shortest, cheapest manner possible.

To make the courses short, some universities are willing to cut down on the number of subjects, the time spent on each subject, and the overall length of the course.

To make courses cheaper, many institutions are now willing to offer their degrees through credit transfer arrangements. These programs began as ‘1+3’ for a degree course – studying for one year at a Chinese university, before completing three years off-shore at the home campus of the western university that issues the degree certificate. Then it was done “innovatively” as ‘2+2’ – two years at each university, then ‘3+1’ – three years in China and one year off-shore, and the most “innovative” of all – the ‘4+0’ course, where you can receive a degree from a western university without ever leaving China.

Unfortunately, this practice has begun to involve universities from some of the most respected education destinations, including the US, the UK and Australia. Students still have to meet minimum IELTs or TOFEL requirements to get into most of the universities, and like bamboo shoots after the spring rain – an old Chinese proverb – English language schools are popping up everywhere.

The problem with these schools is that everything taught is geared toward passing exams, as opposed to developing functional communication skills and a knowledge of “real life” English. The students are learning how to pass the TOEFL, not how to use English. It might be too harsh to label this trend in education as counterfeiting qualifications, and it may be going too far to all these people counterfeited talent. But, whatever label you give it, the fact remains that many of these local “talents” have difficulty conducting a job interview in English, or communicating with foreign customers and staff, despite supposedly having a “western” education.

The blame for this is not all down to the foreign university. Some responsibility must also be assigned to the student’s visa agents, the student’s parents, the student themselves, and the Chinese government’s preferential policy toward returnees.

As long as society is demanding “westernized talent” – people who know never to mix wine with sprite (which is common in China) – and appear to speak English, know how to dress, and wave an overseas degree – then the market will produce them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s reproduction or counterfeiting, it’s simply the market forces naturally adapting to meet emerging demands.

Unfortunately, these “western-educated” hires may lack common sense and problem-solving skills, have no desire to work hard, and may have never spoken English outside of a classroom throughout their overseas study. There are many positions that are suited to people who didn’t achieve high academic results or who can’t speak English, the corporate world needs people all up and down the food chain, from CEOs to cleaners.

When the market creates an illusion that a western education is a prerequisite for success, then we ourselves have unwittingly created the demand for a new market in “counterfeited” talent.