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Learning from the international approach European business schools take

One could argue business schools are the original international education providers, in addition to viewing international trade as the most lucrative of business endeavours.

Photo: ESMT

Some 31% say they look for a school that allows them to accelerate and transform their career prospects

While the world continues its stride into the Asian Century – with McKinsey & Company predicting that the region could account for more than half of global GDP and about 40% of global consumption by 2040 – European business educators are determined to maintain relevance, reputation and success.

A 2022 CarringtonCrisp survey of some 3,000 faculty, professional staff and students at business schools found that the European Union was the third most popular destination for business education, after the UK and the US.

The survey also identified that students have a dual approach when searching for potential business schools.

With 31% of respondents saying they looked for a school that allowed them to accelerate and transform their career prospects and 30% wanting a school that promotes diverse career development paths, prospective students are also searching for opportunities to change wider society.

Compared to wider surveys of international students more generally, the findings are not definitively different.

QS’s Global International Student Survey 2022 found that high quality teaching was most important for students from China, India, South Korea, Germany and France. While students from China and South Korea placed ranking and reputation highly, 45% of Indian and 42% of Vietnamese respondents said good careers service and links with employers was a top priority when choosing a university.

Among 110,306 respondents, 59% of candidates said being able to learn new skills was the most important career consideration when choosing courses, and a further 56% cited high graduate employment rates as the most important graduate outcome metric when choosing universities, the research found.

Other research from IDP has consistently found that high quality of education and good employment outcomes are the primary drivers when prospective students are choosing among study options.

Just over a quarter of the 2022 CarringtonCrisp survey were seeking a business school that challenges world views by “combining innovative and critical thinking”, while one in five wanted a school with a focus on social responsibility. A further 16% nodded to the importance of the school delivering a tangible impact in local communities.

But when questioned on student experience, top of the wish-list for three in 10 respondents was the opportunity to study internationally.

“Of course, adding international experience to a CV may make a candidate more attractive to employers, but it is not the only benefit of international study – self-reliance, confidence, language skills and cultural understanding may all be part of the package,” the report acknowledged.

Along with these factors, reputation remains a key influencer for students searching for executive and professional education opportunities.

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management is known as being one of the best business schools in Germany, so the reputation of our degrees is very high,” director of Career Services, Maren Kaus, says.

The business school, ranked 26th in the Financial Times European Business School Rankings 2022 – behind German rivals Mannheim Business School at 21, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management at 13, and ESMT Berlin at 8 – also offers a type of qualification “that traditional German universities do not necessarily do”, Kaus continues.

“They also hope to get an introduction to the relevant networks, industries, and companies”

“Our business school’s DNA combines excellent research with a high level of practical relevance for corporates across all industries,” she says.

“At the same time, our students have high expectations. Completing studies at Frankfurt School offers them various career choices and positions after graduation and it also shows potential employers that our students are eager to learn and grow.”

Much of business follows the old maxim about who you know and not what you know – an adage savvy business schools have long taken into account.

While EU Business School invited the co-founder of Starbucks to online webinars during the pandemic, the school previously acknowledged that the on-campus experience is “crucial for many reasons”. As well as helping develop important soft skills, for many institutions it allows networking and collaboration opportunities.

Students also arrive anticipating more than “just getting an excellent education”, Kaus adds.

“They also hope to get an introduction to the relevant networks, industries, and companies. So, networking, creating contact, offering a wide range of extracurricular events, trainings and workshops to deepen skills (e.g. management, leadership, entrepreneurial skills), and being in close contact with industry and corporate representatives is an integral part of our work,” Kaus emphasises.

“Altogether, it sets us apart from most traditional German universities.”

Photo: ESMT

Grounding in a new country, in addition to networking and connection opportunities is also vital at ESMT Berlin.

“By virtue of our reputation as the number one business school in Germany and with our contacts into the German market, we elevate international students above everyone else seeking to build a career as expatriate in Germany,” director of external engagement, Roland Siegers, explains.

As highlighted by 26% of respondents to the CarringtonCrisp survey who wanted the opportunity to work on live consulting projects with business as a key part of the student experience, ESMT Berlin also seeks to oblige.

“In every program, we embed practice immersion components,” Siegers says.

“With the support of our dedicated career services team, and also through our entrepreneurship Hub Vali Berlin, we create learning opportunities in close alignment with industry, start-ups and other organisations.

“Our aim is that before the end of their study time with us, students already have high quality contacts and offers to choose from so that their career journey starts on day one after graduation – and sometimes even before.”

Professor at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Désirée van Gorp, highlights that Germany’s neighbour to the west, the Netherlands, is “in origin a trading country in the heart of Europe with an open and welcoming culture to foreigners who want to pursue their career”.

“We elevate international students above everyone else seeking to build a career as expatriate in Germany”

The institution, founded in 1946 as an international educational institute by companies such as DSM, KLM, Shell and Philips aimed at educating responsible leaders who were committed to make a positive impact by rebuilding society after World War II, maintains its same entrepreneurial spirit now, van Gorp states.

“Although academic education is important at Nyenrode, it has always been connected to what we do with it in our different roles in society: Nyenrode’s alumni are action oriented, they are known for getting things done. They combine their intellectual abilities with action.

“This is why for years in a row Nyenrode masters programs are ranked number one by employers and alumni. They get value for money as Nyenrode is the gateway to an international career by combining acquiring knowledge to applying it in real case scenarios while having directly access to job opportunities due to the strong ties Nyenrode has in the business community and public sector.”

As it was founded by the business community, Nyenrode brings a unique network of partners in the private and public sector that participants on its programs have direct access to, she continues. “This is part of the institute’s DNA,” she says.

“Nyenrode is the spider in a web of partners that bridges the participants in our programs with job opportunities.”

As a private university, Nyenrode will not be impacted by recent calls from the Dutch education minister to halt international education recruitment.

“Nyenrode’s alumni are action oriented, they are known for getting things done”

“Nyenrode operates very close to the market,” van Gorp continues.

“Hence, participants in our programs get exposed to the latest developments happening in society in a direct way. This is reflected in the head, heart, hands approach to education that sets Nyenrode apart from other publicly funded institutes. It is a different agile way of providing education to the participants in our programmes that is appealing to employers and students.”

Joep Elemans, director of the Career Centre at the Rotterdam School of Management, also centres in on the importance on career preparation.

“Qualifications of RSM Erasmus University are very well recognised by employers and therefore an excellent stepping stone for a career, also for internationals,” he says.

Photo: RSM

A mandatory employability skills program includes exercises, workshops and activities to improve an insight in personality, strengths and personal values.

“It also helps to improve career skills as CV writing, networking and interview skills,” he says.

Like ESMT Berlin, most RSM degree programs offer business projects, which offer work on a real business case for a professional organisation, he continues.

“We are stimulating our students to live RSM’s mission ‘a force for positive change’, i.e. by promoting ‘CSR Leading companies’ based on the ESG rating with an additional ‘tag’ in our job board (the RSM Career Portal).”

One of the four key recommendations of the QS 2022 survey points to the importance that educators connect with all key influencers of student choice.

Dean of Belgium’s Vlerick Business School, Marion Debruyne, put it succinctly when she recently questioned whether business schools “are merely providing a brand name and a career outcome”, or if they are also differentiating on the learning experience itself.

Modes of learning that are part of the new normal the schools find themselves in, such as online, hybrid and on-campus, “define what their learning approach entails, and how to translate it consistently to different settings”, she said.

“Moreover, there is the learner’s voice to consider as well. I expect the on-campus learner to become more discerning and expect more engaging learning experiences that really capitalise on the live face-to-face setting,” she predicted for 2023 in Business Because.

These institutions are finding unique ways to identify prospective students that will become effective graduates and ambassadors, as well as new ways of teaching and engaging learners – something the wider education sector may be able to learn from.

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