Over the past 20 years, management schools in France have led the way in providing young internationally minded graduates fit to work in modern business. They should recognize this and stop apologizing for what they have achieved.
“Do any French people actually work in your school, Mark?”
My international visitor was looking incredulously around in the vast entrance of my school. This school lies in a medium-sized French city at the bottom of the French Alps. I had just taken him for coffee with my Austrian colleague, had introduced to two programme directors (one Irish and one English), and had bumped into our Academic Director (Scottish) and one of our most senior professors in HRM (American).
You can’t blame him for wondering. His little joke was nothing more than a reflection of just how international business schools have become in France and in Europe.
It has not always been like this.
A pessimistic view from the 1990s
In 1990, the European Management Journal published an article entitled “French International Business Education: A Pessimistic View.” As the title suggests Jean-Claude Usunier’s article gives a very negative, almost Malthusian vision, of the state of education in France. He suggests that French higher educational institutions (HEIs) were simply ready for the coming challenges of the increasingly globalised market. He worried that French society was too ethnocentric and that powerful lobbies would prevent students being taught in English. This was epitomized by the then CEO of Peugeot SA, Jacques Calvet, who stated:
“I have nothing against bringing in more foreigners, providing they speak perfect French.”
In this context French students would not be equipped to work in an international environment and the teaching of international business would become marginalized.
Usunier was no doubt right to be concerned, but fortunately history proved him to be wrong.
Management Education in France today
In fact, 20 years on and French education has gained a healthy reputation outside of its borders. France, with the USA, the UK and Germany is one of the 4 countries today to play host to more than half of the world’s international students. International students can study on any one of more than 600 individual programmes that are wholly taught in English if they do not have a good level of French. For the past 5 years, 7 of the top 13 world Masters programmes according to the FT are in French business schools.
Likewise, French students are also interested in studying abroad to improve their linguistic and intercultural skills. France is the 5th largest provider (after China, India, South Korea and Germany) of outgoing students in absolute numbers. (It moves into third place if a per capita figure is used). Indeed, it even pushes the USA into sixth place in absolute numbers despite the fact that its population is a mere 20% percent of its American counterparts.
French business schools have been at the forefront of this movement to internationalize the country. They offer a massive array of different courses in English. Most have made speaking two languages and international experience compulsory to graduate and they now recruit 40% of all the international students coming to the country.
The irony of this story is that French business schools now seem to spend most of their time in the press apologizing for their success. If this were modesty, it would be a good thing. It isn’t. Outnumbered by the universities and engineering schools and attacked by the French establishment for the past couple of years for being too elitist, there always seems to be an inherent shame in how well everything they have achieved. This is incredible.
French management schools have been at the forefront of making the country an attractive place to study for international students. They have shown that HEIs can change and adapt to the needs of modern companies. There is still much to be done, and the business schools are by no means perfect, but it is still quite a triumph. They should find the courage to admit it in public. And they should stop apologizing.
Last week a group of young researchers at the Shanghai Jiaotong university were busy compiling the 9th version of the Academic Ranking of World Universities. This was first compiled in 2003 and was greeted like a bombshell in France as well as in several other countries.
The 2012 once again confirmed the supremacy of American universities where more than half of the top 100 being from the USA. 9 years on the winners are….the USA (though with warning signs), China, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. And the losers? Japan, Germany and perhaps India. Read more….
This weekend there were some 20 cms (8 in.) of snow in Grenoble. In October! This is almost unheard of though you won’t hear those in the skiing industry complaining. This may also be good news for international students coming here soon on a study abroad program. In fact, just this week we finished the recruitment process for next semester.
Back in February I did a survey of international students to see of the prospect of doing some skiing was important in choosing to study in Grenoble. Nearly 50% of them said that is was very important. Is this a rational decision for future managers to make? Read more…
In 2011, Trisha Egberts, decided to come a study at Grenoble EM for one semester. Encouraged by her home institution, Queen’s University, Canada and driven by a childhood desire to live it France, she choose Grenoble because she wanted to live somewhere a little different to large capitals like Paris. Read more…
International Affairs in Higher Education