28 Sep Higher education with the students at the centre of the experience
Luc Craen, Executive Director, EU Business School, believes that inspiring entrepreneurship and innovation is a key characteristic of their university
EU Business School is one of the leading highly-ranked business school of Switzerland, established in 1973. The school has campuses in Barcelona, Geneva, Montreux, Munich as well as online. Could you give us a rapid overview of EU: how does it distinguish or differ from other business schools and does it stand out in Switzerland’s higher education landscape?
We were established in 1973 and, at the time, we were the first university to bring the Bachelor of Business Administration to Europe. The degree was really well known in the US, but not so much in Europe because this was before the Treaty of Bologna where you had the ‘licence’ in France and in Switzerland as well. After the Treaty of Bologna bachelor’s degrees were available in all countries.
When we started, the goal was to bring the strengths of American education and combine them with European education. This meant a full curriculum with 22 to 24 hours of classes per week and no liberal arts. Students that will be coming to study business will start straight away with business classes, which is the foundation of European education. Drawing from American education, these will be taught in small classes, using a pragmatic approach, also adding professionals as faculty. Having a banker that is working during the day coming in to teach finance classes, for instance, is really important. They will have the required training to teach, but this method will bring in hands-on experience.
The goal as well is to have a student centric approach that is highly focused on the experiential learning of the students. There is a lot of interaction in our classes, which are normally around 20 to 25 students in terms of size. We want students to be fully integrated, not only participants but true actors. It’s the role of our faculty members to also act as mentors, as coaches in some regard, to bring out the full potential of our students. On average, in a class of 20 to 25 students, you have between 10 to 15 different nationalities, making our student body highly International. We have 90 percent international students and on our different campuses we have over 100 different nationalities. We are ranked No. 1 in terms of diversity by the QS World University ranking because of our full international outlook.
We stand for our values which are transformational, pragmatic, open and global. Our goal is to create entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and innovators. We have many students who will eventually set up their own business at the end of their curriculum. We have a lot of students that are second or third generation members of family businesses as well. EU Business School attracts these types of students.
That is one of the major aspects where we are different: having so many people with different experience but with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Our goal is to drive them and coach them in this regard, to encourage and give them resilience I think that is a key aspect of EU Business School.
When I speak about the transformational experience, I think it is also important that we put the students at the centre, developing not only skill sets but a personality based on the values that we share. We also have a series of different activities throughout the program. It is not only a business-finance course or only a marketing course, but there are a lot of different activities throughout the curriculum that are offered to our students. For example, we currently run the ‘Learning from Leaders’ series of courses where we have CEOs that come talk to our students every week or every other week.
On average, we have between four to eight different activities per week. There are extracurricular activities in order to bring ideas to our students, in order to develop the mindset of our students, and that is highly important. When we speak about the student experience or the transformation of our students, we are looking at developing their personalities. We manage the student experience throughout the curriculum, from the day they start. The day they leave is also not the end of our journey together. We maintain close contact with our alumni, many of whom return to campus to participate in mentorship programs, to coach our students or to give a guest lecture. Our alumni also form different chapters around the world. We want them engaged and helping to build the community and continue adding to the entire experience for students. Alumni are also offered to participate in the ‘Learning from Leaders’ series or any other lifelong learning experiences. What is really important for us is to have the students fully involved in it and to create a strong network and a close-knit community.
Could you provide some key facts and figures to illustrate your importance and influence today?
Today EU Business School has 2.500 students across its campuses. We have 27.000 alumni worldwide. Our online MBA program has been ranked by CEO Magazine. We have been ranked among the 250 best MBAs worldwide. We are highly involved with the students in this regard. We pronoun rankings, but we put a lot of employability as well for our students. The goal at the end of the day is that once they leave, students can be productive the minute after, and that brings back this full pragmatic approach. In terms of Switzerland in general, our alumni chapter is made up of 3.000 people, with 600 of these being highly active attending different events on a monthly or yearly basis. They come back on campus to be involved with our students, they act as potential employers, and contribute to building the whole community.
We have a lot of international students and the reason why they come to Switzerland is because it is an innovative platform, and it is neutral, and I think that’s what a lot of people like as well. A lot of our students will then remain in Switzerland and set up a business or a joint venture or even a branch of their businesses. Most of them are here to stay, as they are attached to Switzerland. If they cannot make it and stay here, they will definitely come back to Switzerland on a yearly basis or on a regular basis.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought many economies to their knees and has dealt a major blow to most economic sectors. The education sector also had to readjust very quickly. One of the clearest effects has been the acceleration of digitalisation in corporate and households, as well as in universities and schools during lockdown. As an institution that already had an online campus, to what extent has it disrupted the traditional models and accelerated some of the key trends already in place like the shift towards e-learning?
We are very happy with our online campus and the fact that we could rely on this in order to bring forward the transition. It is very different to claim that you offer online courses and e-learning, and to actually do it. Obviously, we cannot deliver an online course the same way that we could with a residential one. I think because of our previous experience we were clearly able to bring a fully dynamic environment to our students. That is thanks to our online program, thanks to the facilities that we already had, to the system that was bulletproof, but also because we had staff and faculty members that were fully competent in using it. That is a big competitive advantage and why the students’ feedback that we received was good. We were able to do that seamlessly.
Thinking about the future, we had some students that were a bit concerned at the beginning because they would have signed up for residential classes, for the full experience, but what we did and what we are still doing is not only to shift the classes online, but to bring a full online experience to our students. Shifting the full experience online with a lot of seminars, a lot of conferences happening, gatherings for our students, might they be virtual, but it was also for us to be clear that we were there to support our students. It was a great way to receive feedback from them as well. For students to listen to a faculty member for two or three hours doing their talk is not interesting. We wanted to add dynamic components, where students were able to interact and where we were able to go on breakdown sessions. The feedback we received from students has been quite positive.
We were able to do this thanks to the fact that we already had some experience in this regard. And it has been an amazing learning curve for the entire community and people were able to adapt. For people that were kind of reluctant to online or virtual teaching, it has been an amazing eye-opener because they realized that there can in fact be interaction, albeit virtual. At the same time, I think that in the long-term people are still going to be willing to come back on campus. I think we need the best of both worlds now. Even students that are looking at going for a full-on campus experience we are going to suggest to them to take some online classes just to add it on their CV because that is the new reality. This blended approach is very powerful. In different programs you will see many different solutions, yet I think if you are a student today it is a fascinating time to go back to study. There are so many things that are changing, that starting your studies now might be quite lucky in some respect because they will be learning a lot of new tools. They are able to observe all the other markets and how different industries will evolve.
Our students will have the right skill sets as well, because they would have practiced the virtual aspect. I think being tech savvy and having experience with virtual interactions will definitely be something that students in the future will be asked to have as part of their skill sets. Virtual leadership will be key. It is not the same than if you have the team in front of you.
I am pretty optimistic about the future. I think there is still going to be residential classes and people are still willing to travel. It is part of a full experience, it is not only taking a course, but a part of moving to a different country, starting learning. There might be as I said some online components, but still there will be a lot on site as well. We will see more and more of this mix of both, virtual and on site.
EU Business School is by definition quite international since it has such a multicultural student body and faculty with more than 100 nationalities spread over its campuses, and a 27.000-strong alumni network. Could you tell us about your efforts to strengthen the school’s international reach and network? What are your plans to expand your cooperation with other universities for student exchanges, but also with global industrial players and corporations across borders?
Internationalization is our bread and butter and that is what we live for and what we do. In order to be different we need to offer different programs to our students. It starts with potential exchange agreements or university exchange programs. The second aspect is clearly dual degrees; dual degree programs that we already have in place and that we will be further developing. At the same time, it is also about giving those people that are coming to Switzerland, to Germany or Barcelona, a global but also a local mindset, so that they can experience the best Switzerland has to offer for them: it might be innovation, it might be leading companies, the banking, or Geneva being a centre for innovation related to the blockchain industry.
It is necessary for students to be able to have access to experts, to have access to a cluster of experiences. This is why we have also partnerships with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. The goal is to expose our students to the reality of the business world. I think that is where our effort is international in order to be present and to work on intercampus relationships with other institutions, recruit students from all over the world, but also local in order to give the best experience to our students on the values that Switzerland can bring. We have relationships as well with some of the UN organizations around here in Geneva and that is also why people are coming here, because of the exposure they will be able to receive. Our research activities are also related to this. We want a pragmatic approach, applied research, but we want research that is meaningful and can be used afterwards. That’s where we are looking to develop our research with companies in order to assist them in finding the answers they are looking for.
In this highly competitive market, with thousands of universities and business schools out there, what is your strategy to promote the school and attract international students, professors, researchers and talents?
Having a vision, to be focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, and to work with the students on this transformational aspect. To have control as much as possible from the beginning when the student starts —we are dealing with a lot of international students so we need to support them along the way. They need to carry the business school spirit with them even after they leave.
It is a competitive market not only in Switzerland but internationally. Students looking at studying in Switzerland might also look at studying in the US or in Germany or in the UK. We need to be extra attractive in some aspects and the institution has a lot to do but it’s also the country where we operate. Switzerland is top five in terms of standards of living, innovation, and being a cluster of knowledge. For a small country like Switzerland, it’s just amazing how many leading institutions we have, such as IMD, EPFL, ETHZ or EHL, which are leading in their markets. Switzerland represents a true cluster of excellence when it comes to academia as well.
Switzerland’s competitiveness is definitely an added value in order to attract students, but the neutrality I think has a lot to play as well. Speaking about COVID-19, I think Switzerland will be one of the winners because we have been able to go through the crisis so far in a respectful manner with measures but not to the extent that we have been forced to lockdown. People were still able to go out, but we were respecting the rules. We had full confidence and full trust in our political leadership as well. Whether you compare it to the rest of the world, we have seven people in Switzerland that are taking decisions for the people, seven people that represent different political parties and that have one goal together: the best for the country.
The Swiss share a value of trust and respect. Switzerland is also a diverse and multicultural country because we have four languages, three different cultures, Latin, French and German, and the country has been built as well on second generations of immigrants that have made Switzerland who we are now. We have stability and economic strength. It is all about trust and respect, and this is critically important for Switzerland. I think that is something that is amazing here. It’s not only the landscapes but an economy that is powerful, that has been stable and has low unemployment, and that is very innovative. We’ve need to reinvent ourselves because we’re in the centre of Europe. To make a reflection on COVID-19, we were at the centre of Europe bordering with Italy, France and Germany and we made it. I think that is also because of the people and their respect to the rules.
As we’re closing a very tumultuous academic year and opening into a new one next year, what is your final message or takeaway message for the global student community and Newsweek readers?
Do not hesitate to venture out and do not put your dreams on hold. It is a fascinating time to learn. Never underestimate the benefits of continuous learning. Invest in yourself as much as possible because there is always something to learn.
The pandemic is a perfect example. The skill sets that were needed four months ago, are different now. That is why you need to continue learning, continue being interested in new knowledge and being curious.
This is what I tell our students whenever they start. I tell them that they make their own experience. They can apply to the program, attend classes, but not get anything out of it. This is not usually the case. Or they can make this meaningful and turn it into a life remembering experience. Pioneer and get out of your comfort zone because that is how you will be able to move forward.
EU Business School’s students are eager to go out of their comfort zone. They left home, they needed to come to a new culture, to an environment where they did not know anybody. But at the end of the day, they made friends for life, they have memories, and they became another personality. I am always amazed whenever you see our undergraduate students starting and whenever they leave three years after. They are different individuals, much more mature, with more self-confident, and equipped to tackle the challenges that exist today.