The PIE: The first thing I wanted to ask about was the main challenges that business schools are facing in terms of international students?
Julie Perrin-Halot: We’re facing short term challenges and then a lot of longer term challenges. I think I speak for a lot of schools and especially French schools, when I say one of the most difficult things is everything happened so fast – getting everything online and figuring out how to fully integrate students in different countries into what we’re doing or get them to France.
“I think everyone was really uncertain about how this first semester of this academic year would start”
I think everyone was really uncertain about how this first semester of this academic year would start. Would we be online? Would we be in a hybrid version? Would we be in classrooms? So we’ve been really trying to communicate with students to make sure those that want to come to France are getting visas because embassies and consulates were closed until very, very late.
The PIE: Have a lot of students flagged issues with obtaining visas?
JP-H: Depending on where students are coming from, they have had a lot of difficulties getting visas. And then making sure that we can adapt our programs to be able to cater to students [who] want to interact in classrooms, while also having means of including those that are either nervous about coming to schools, or that chose or were forced to stay at home in a lot of different time zones. It’s been a real logistical puzzle.
The whole time, we’ve been trying to take on new tools and techniques for online learning, which, I think schools have flirted with for many years now.
It’s been a challenge bringing our faculty along with that so they feel super comfortable teaching in all of these different ways and can adapt their content and make sure they’re still delivering the kind of quality we expect.
The PIE: What do your enrolments look like for the year ahead? Earlier this year, we reported that business schools were quite positive because with an economic downturn, they were predicting enrolment increases.
JP-H: We feel pretty confident about that. We’ve seen some increases in a lot of the professional education enrolments. We’ve welcomed more students into parts of our MBA program, and other parts we’ve had to defer in Russia, Georgia, because it was just easier for them to do that. But we’re seeing that our enrolment numbers are quite good.
“We’ve been trying to take on new tools and techniques for online learning, which, I think schools have flirted with for many years now”
Now, this is this year. Going forward, we’re going to have to figure out how we really continue to maintain that. We want to keep these international students willing and able to pay tuition rather than just deferring to the national system in France that is relatively inexpensive, comparatively.
The PIE: What is the best way to maintain those enrolment numbers going forward?
JP-H: I think that creates an obligation for us to really present something online that is interesting, multidimensional and a really high quality and where we continue to create interaction and something that doesn’t make students feel like they’re alone in their living room and that’s all that their program is.
Our pilot this year mostly for French students – probably next year we’ll roll it out to more of our international programs – we did a whole week of our welcome forum for students where they actually came onto campus with an avatar virtually, and did all kinds of group activities and challenges and projects.
The PIE: Did the staff take part?
JP-H: Yes, even school staff and the faculty had their own avatars to interact with the students. They did some challenges around sustainability, and it worked really, really well.
As long as we can continue to ensure students of the quality of the content, the experience they’re getting that will prepare them for a more virtual world tomorrow – including the relative comfort in attending class online or partially online – then I think we’ll be able to really continue to maintain international enrolment. We don’t feel particularly worried about that.
The PIE: I also wanted to ask about Grenoble’s international strategy. How has the pandemic changed that? And in terms of strategy, how does that differ from other providers’ strategies?
JP-H: Grenoble considers itself an international school. That’s our outreach, that’s our personality. And that’s definitely a strategic objective that we continue to have – bringing in international staff, students, faculty, and offering programs in English.
And then, of course, providing a lot of opportunities to our students for mobility, whether it be within study abroad programs or internships or other ways, so they develop really international profiles themselves.
Over the years we have developed our programs and we deliver some of our programs offsite. Now it’s different than other schools.
The PIE: In what ways is it different?
JP-H: If you look at ESCP, which is another French school that has its own campuses in places such as London, Berlin, Madrid and Turin. It is a bricks and mortar model with campus deans and local staff. We took a different approach.
We basically export our programs in their identical form to institutions or other providers, whether that be in Georgia, Moscow, Singapore, Berlin, Casablanca. We take the faculty to ensure we deliver the same courses to students wherever they are.
Now, I don’t think we will get rid of that model of flying faculty around, [but] I think we will be brought to examine that model.
“Something else on the table that is gaining a lot more space in our thinking process is climate change”
Not only is the pandemic going to have a profound effect on internationalisation of higher education and business schools in particular, I really believe that, but I also think that something else on the table that is gaining a lot more space in our thinking process is climate change.
Because of travel and all this internationalisation, we’re going to have to deeply examine these models and look at them much differently. I’m actually working with a group of different schools looking at what this means for us and what are our models going forward.
The PIE: How important is internationalisation for the next generation of students?
JP-H:Internationalisation certainly is important on the CV of a young graduate that wants a job, but it’s also important because that’s what fosters tolerance and open mindedness. We’re in a world where we’re battling nationalism and populism, people are reverting to a very closed vision of the world.
If we want young people that are going to help keep this world an open space, then they have to be immersed in other cultures, contexts and challenges.
So, how do we go about this? How do we continue to give those opportunities to our students [while respecting the planet]? Right now, I would say we have more questions than we have answers. And I think that this is going to force us to perhaps reduce a lot of our competitive nature around these things and cooperate on some levels in ways that we haven’t previously.
I think we need to be super proactive on it.
The PIE: GEM has also been involved with Grenoble winning the European green capital award…
JP-H: This was really exciting because this was just awarded recently, and GEM has been really involved in that. One of our research chairs is around the environmental transition and they work really closely with the mayor here in the city. And he’s been really aggressive in Grenoble looking at these things.
A lot of our research revolves around questions related to sustainability and much of it is done in cooperation with the city officials. This gives our students opportunities to be involved in projects where our “Green” city is encouraging organisations and businesses to think differently about how we live – from public transportation all the way to well-being at work.
The PIE: Despite all the challenges, it seems like quite an exciting time to be involved in education.
JP-H: I think so. And, you know, I think we need to feel that way too, or we’re all going to just drop our arms and want to crawl under our comforters and never come out again. It’s exciting because our students are such drivers.
“If we want young people that are going to help keep this world an open space, then they have to be immersed in other cultures”
We’ve had a group of students who were just recently in our executive committee saying, ‘Okay, tell us about how you’re putting things about climate change into our curriculum. You know, we want to talk about it in our finance classes’.
They’re pushing really hard and good for them because one we need that push and two we need to have these young people that have that kind of mentality so that we have some hope for the future.
I think the fact that we were all confined, we got a whole different perspective on consumption and all of these kinds of issues. It’s an important point for me personally, but also for us as an institution.