French Management Schools: Stop apologizing!

Studying in France

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

Jean-Claude Usunier

Jean-Claude Usunier : A pessimistic view of French management education in 1990

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:

Jacques Calvet, CEO Citroen

Jacques Calvet, CEO Citroen:
‘Nothing against bringing in more foreigners, providing they speak perfect French.’

“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

Equis Acredited schools chart

Number of EQUIS accredited schools by country: Adapted from EFMD data

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.

Best Business schools in Europe 2007 - 2011

FT Best European Business Schools 2007 -2011:
Adpated from FT data

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.

Outgoing students from France

French business schools have become attractive for international students

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.

Recognizing achievements

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.


See also:

The Shanghai Jiaotong Academic Ranking of World Universities 2012…and the winners are….

World ranking of universities 2012Last 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….

Snow Patrol, Irrational decisions and Studying in Grenoble

Snow patrol and irrational decisions October and it is already snowing in Grenoble! 

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…

From Queen’s University through Grenoble EM to PwC, Toronto : A Canadian view of studying in France

A Canadian studying in FranceIn 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…   


Leading in Turbulent Times Good to Great 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Excellent advice taken from Lorange’s business and academic career. One of the most important business  books of the 1990s and has been in the best seller list ever since. Fantastic read for anyone thinking about their leadership style. Why are some companies having problems keeping good staff? How do you manage to keep them?

Mark Thomas

Grenoble EM

ESC Grenoble




Global Ed

International Affairs in Higher Education

Business School


Filed under Business Schools, Careers, Education, Exchange study programs, France, Higher Education, International studies, Rankings, Strategy, Study Abroad

21 responses to “French Management Schools: Stop apologizing!

  1. Dave Neve

    I don’t agree with anything said in this article. I work in a renowned engineering school and I know what I’m talking about. More and more students crammed into a class. ‘Teachers’ who might be in industry but have absolutely no teacher training and are often just thrown in at the deep end.
    Job insecurity inflicted illegally on the majority of the teaching staff (CDD contracts). As for classes in English, our first French teachers were given no language trainnig support and the students at around First certificate level complained that there English was far better than the teacher’s.
    Just like in England, education has become big business and it is too expensive for the majority of Frenchmen and women. How many families do you think can pay around 8 000 Euros a year just for 5 years without counting accomodation and food?
    And the worst is that lots of these schools are associations with a charity status (the law of 1901) but the directors are paid a fortune.
    The question therefore arises if they should even be accepting rich foreign students rather than helping poor French ones (a funny idea of charity if you ask me)
    Same debate as is going on in England at the moment and no prizes for guessing where I stand on the matter

    • Peter

      To Dave Neve

      You pretend to know what you are talking about. But do you know that de topic is about French Mangement Schools, not engineering schools ?

    • Mark Thomas

      Thank you for your reply.
      Lack of teacher training has been a problem in the past, though most management schools will now provide this for their faculty member. Since all professors get an evaluation from the students at the end of each course, any shortcomings of professors can quickly be highlighted and corrected within their academic department. I know that there are talks of now bringing in a similar system to universities in France.

      As far as job security goes, my experience in hiring professors is that the really good ones are in great demand and often quite difficult to employ. It is they that have the power in the employer/employee relationship.

      As far as the financing of higher education goes, I think that there are probably a number of issues that we will find difficult to agree on. Higher education has become an aspiration of the masses (which in my opinion is a great thing) but it has to be paid for one way or another. 20 years ago it was free for most people, but in the UK only 5% of any age group received a university education. This isn’t any fairer. There has been much talk of the Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking in the past few years and it has had a major impact on higher education policies in diffierent countries. What is less know is that studies have indicated that there is a direct link between the budget of the instituton and its ranking. Europeans and Americans spend about the same proportion of their GDP on higher education (about 1.1%) but private investment is 10 times higher in the US. Not suprising then, that the USA can boast of having 17 of the top 20 univerities in the Shanghai Jiaotong ranking while Europe has only 2 (Oxford and Cambridge).

  2. Peter

    A small correction to your post “Europeans and Americans STATES spend about the same proportion…”

  3. Emilia Allonso

    Looking from outside France I do agree that many business schools are doing a great job on providing their students a global education and giving them the opportunity to learn and experience a multicultural ambiance. I’ve spent one year in Grenoble and it was one of the richest experience I have ever had. The school really worked on creating a multi-etinical environment paying attention to small details such as calling foreign student as “international” people. Words change everything.And that’s what makes difference when you really want to be global: take people seriously.
    ps> 26 Yold, brazilian

  4. Rocio

    I studied one year in Grenoble Ecole de Management and let me tell you the degree of excellence and academic teaching is outstanding. I learned there about European commerce, PR, finance, etc. The teachers are really nice and motivate you to think on your own and encourage teamwork and debating. I want to return to France for my masters degree.

  5. Franzi

    After spending one semester at the above mentioned business school in Grenoble, I only partly agree with the article. Yes, French education is internationalizing but it is only the beginning – e.g., I don’t consider it a very polite act towards the non-French speaking international students when all official (university-internal) emails are in French. However, the fact that a teacher’s reemployment for the next terms depends to a large part on the students is a refreshing if not daring move. It certainly incentivates thoughtful lecture preparation and as such a better quality.
    Personally, I found the structure of the lectures – let’s say – astonishing: From my home university, I was used to first getting to know the basics (actually learning them) and in the advanced semesters we had to apply our knowledge to various problems. When I arrived in France, the class has only ever dealt with applications but did not even treat half of the theories that I have learned. At least to my mind, it is important to know the basics in order to be able to deliver a good analysis.
    On the level of a Master this application-driven approach is excellent which might explain the success of France in this area.

  6. French Universities which provide course in English language as private institute need to work with educational agent of course with deceasing fees.
    It is wasting time if you are comparing your fees with UK or other education providers with several years of experience in this industrial.

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