With six campuses in France, alongside its Budapest and Shanghai locations and network of partner universities in 56 countries, ESSCA places intercultural management at the heart of its curriculum.
And, with the world facing multiple crises, international openness is only becoming more important than ever before, the institution’s dean and CEO, Jean Charroin, tells The PIE News.
“In the last two decades – because of globalisation – we had to educate future managers, entrepreneurs to be able to understand the key issue of a globalised world,” he says.
“But I consider that right now it’s more important. With many issues, regarding geopolitics, borders and the fact that the international trade is less easy than it was before, that means that it’s even more important, to have an international openness, to have an international curriculum.
“Otherwise our graduates and alumni won’t be able to address, to answer all the questions relating to this changing world.”
After three decades in Hungary, and in China since the early 2000s, the institution is looking to reemphasise its position in Europe.
“In 2019 when we designed our new strategy, we planned to open the new campus in North America… But with the recent Covid outbreak and the geopolitical situation and war in Ukraine, in fact, we are working now on the update of the strategic plan. The fact is that we will focus on Europe.”
A focus on Europe offers international students unique opportunities, he suggests.
“The European Union is a real asset for French business in terms of international exposure,” he explains.
Additionally, non-EU students – from South and Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central Asia, South Asia, North America – benefit from one admission process, but with a number of campuses which they can switch between. Charroin also points to the benefit of automatic recognition of diplomas across Europe. The school’s learning from Hungary has informed its position on qualifications recognition.
“Thanks to our very simple portfolio, we’re able to maintain the quality among the campuses,” he notes, adding that almost 90% of students are listed either in bachelor or master programs. The strategy also safeguards against potential challenges, he predicts.
“I mentioned the political advantage to have one visa, but there is another one. This is the issue related to exchange rates, which I think we will face this situation very soon.
“Because of inflation, because of economic instability. If we decide to have our campuses in Europe, but in the eurozone, we will – I don’t mean that we will avoid all the problems of the eurozone – but we will avoid the difficulties we would have to face with exchange rates if we have campuses in other continents or currency areas.”
“Exchange semesters in Europe will lower the impact of our footprint”
Maintaining locations in one continent – where international travel is possible by train – also adds a environmental advantage.
“I don’t mean that it’s not important to have a student experience in Asia or in Latin America, but, exchange semesters in Europe will lower the impact of our footprint. If we decide to send students far away, then I think we would like them to have an added value in terms of exchange, for instance, the degree or certificate would offer an added value to the curriculum.”
And yet mobility is at the heart of the new ESSCA strategy.
“For us, international education is even more important today,” Charroin acknowledges. “And so this is one of the reasons why we decided to have a full semester of studying abroad compulsory in our curriculum starting 2022.”
Previously, a compulsory international semester was in place where students chose between a company project, company internship or a semester with a partner institution, but now an academic semester abroad is obligatory.
“They will have to interact with other students in different contexts. But in addition, they will have to complete an internship abroad as well.
“We will offer the possibility to go everywhere, but we would focus on Europe.”
The pandemic threw up barriers to mobility that the sector doesn’t need reminding of. Australia was closed for almost two years. A year ago it was impossible to send students to the US. China will remain largely closed until at least January 2023, Charroin predicts.
“That means if we don’t have the possibility to send the students far away, we know that on the contrary it’s easier to send our students to Europe. If we want them to have this international exposure, we must be able to offer them the possibilities.”
For short-term international programs and seminars, especially on MBA courses, ESSCA would certainly prefer online cooperation with partner institutions.
Since joining the school in 2018, Charroin has seen the French business school develop from a specialist in its master in management program. The bachelor program has grown from less than 100 students per intake, to more than 800 students today, for example.
“We’re changing the DNA base definitely,” he says.
“The fact that we are present in different campuses in France, the mindset of the staff is French and deeply French rooted. So if we want to internationalise the mindset, we have to set up campuses abroad.
“All the French business schools want to recruit foreign students [but] we want to have a different approach.”
With some 25% of bachelor students currently from overseas, and 10-15% of the masters, ESSCA is also looking to recruit internationally. ESSCA has “a real competence” in launching new campuses, he notes. “So what we did in France we are about to do in other European countries.”
That will require administrative staff in hosting countries to interact with staff in France in English.
“I don’t think that every European wants to learn the language of Voltaire or Rousseau”
“We won’t be able to recruit only French-speaking people in different countries. French language is the language of Voltaire, but I don’t think that every European wants to learn the language of Voltaire or Rousseau. I think [English] will make the recruitment of some faculty easier as well,” he says.
Different locations will attract a wider range of faculty, he predicts.
“If we want to attract more easily Latin American professors, faculty members, with, for instance, a campus in Spain, Portugal, it would be easier.”
While qualifications are not recognised in China, the campus – designed to accept non-Chinese ESSCA students – gives a “very interesting window on Asia”, especially for students developing specialisation close to the Chinese market.
“But until 2023, I think we won’t have the possibility to send students there.” The business school also collaborates with Fudan University, but Chinese students wanting to study with ESSCA are required to spend at least one or two semesters abroad in another campus.
The location in Hungary was fostered in a “pioneering spirit almost 30 years ago when the Iron Curtain collapsed”.
“The director at this time decided to be the first to move to Eastern Europe. I think it was a smart move. But I think the school was not bold to go farther.”
Like the Shanghai campus, the Hungarian school was launched in order to send French students to, rather than recruit local students.
Demography is a key focal point, and, as Charroin admits, “the demographic prospects in Central Europe are not excellent”.
“We are trying to see to what extent we can maintain our activity there. We can still send our students from France, or perhaps in the future from other countries, to Budapest. But now we have to fight this greatly decreasing demography.”
Asked where to look for interesting demographic shifts, Charroin is blunt. Africa, he says.
“But I don’t think this is the best place to recruit students,” he clarifies, especially for a private business school which requires students to have great purchasing power.
“We will recruit students from some African countries, Cameroon, Morocco. Out of the, the 15% of the students in our grand ecole/ our master in management, I would say that almost 6% of the 15% come from Africa.”
“India is like China a few years ago”
Of the annual 1,200 cohort, almost 70 are currently from Africa, he calculates. “I think it would increase slightly year by year, but it won’t be the major focus.”
Asia and Latin America are markets that have the purchasing power, he suggests. “India is like China a few years ago. I think we have to see past the next one. And I think Indonesia for me is a promising country in terms of development,” he notes.
“I would said that the world was [previously] flat, so it was so easy to be with a very simplistic viewpoint,” he concludes. “But now you have to understand even more of the geopolitical intrications. You have to understand all the specificities of the countries. And so you need to recruit students from very different backgrounds, otherwise, our French students won’t be aware of the differences in terms of culture.”