<B>Business education in Europe</B>

Angel Cabrera. Dean. Instituto de Empresa

15 September 2003

There are several good reasons why anyone considering doing an MBA—or any other graduate business degree for that matter—should consider doing so at a European School.

The reasons become even more compelling if those making the decision happen to be interested in developing an international mindset, in learning to lead increasingly diverse organizations in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.

Whether by design or by necessity, European schools have devoted a great deal of attention to equip students with the attitudes, the sensitivity and the skills necessary to manage businesses in the international arena. This orientation has been at least in part a response to the requirements of the process of European integration. The consolidation of the European Union has pushed European companies, large and small alike, to invest and trade across borders. This process has created a demand for a type of manager who can handle the ambiguities, uncertainties and complexities associated with doing business under different cultural, legal and institutional settings. In order to deal with this requirement, European schools have had to cultivate the diversity of their faculties, student bodies, and their curricula to ensure that students are exposed to the variety of business cases and contexts their future employers demand.

These skills, time has shown, are just as valuable for European managers as they are for managers anywhere else in the world, a fortunate trend that is being capitalized by European schools. Students attending European MBA programs will meet more students from more countries than they would almost anywhere else. So not only will they be exposed to an internationally-laden academic content, but their daily work will create many learning experiences requiring to collaborate, debate, negotiate, persuade and communicate in an environment where local cultural shortcuts break down. As it is the case with any other skill, there is no substitute for practice in learning to work cross-culturally, and European business school provide a unique and very effective learning ground for it.

A second advantage of European programs has to do with the capacity of European schools to innovate in what they do and how they do it. European business schools have defined their course quite independently from the university establishment. Indeed, the most reputed European schools are either standalone institutions—e.g. IMD, INSEAD, Instituto de Empresa or LBS—or they operate within the institutional umbrella of a university but with a great deal of autonomy—e.g. ESADE-Ramón Llull, IESE-Navarra, Judge-Cambridge, RSM-Erasmus, SDA-Bocconi, or Saïd-Oxford. This autonomy has allowed schools to be more flexible, more dynamic and more innovative in terms of program offerings, faculty policies and financial development than the traditional university bureaucracies would have normally allowed.

One very visible sample of innovation is the one-year MBA, now offered by several schools such as IMD, INSEAD or Instituto de Empresa. It is obvious that many experienced students can simply not afford, both financially or career-wise, to stay out of the market for the two whole years required by the original, and so-far standard, MBA. Initially criticized by traditional institutions defending the standard, the intensive one-year approach has shown through the years to satisfy and exceed not only the learning expectations of seasoned students, but also the needs and expectations of recruiters from the world’s most important corporations, investment banks and consulting firms. The same innovative capacity of European schools manifests itself also in how they embrace alternative delivery technologies, how they incorporate non-traditional learning dynamics and field exercises, or how they try to bring new content to the curriculum, to expose students to the world’s wide variety of approaches to open-market capitalism.

[*D European schools have had to be creative and find alternative ways to provide value to corporations to benefit from their financial support *]

Finally, European schools have also excelled at finding novel ways to partner with corporations and feed the value of those relationships back to the classroom. With very few exceptions, European schools have not yet come close to American institutions in raising philanthropic donations from corporations or wealthy individuals. While this limitation carries some disadvantages, it has at the same time had some positive side effects. Specifically, European schools have had to be creative and find alternative ways to provide value to corporations in order to benefit from their financial support. This has led to research and learning programs that link the activity of the faculty to the priorities of companies. This linkage has had the effect of bringing the faculty’s attention closer to the most relevant problems faced by the business community—rather than the most interesting problems for the academic community—and to focus the learning of students on those issues.

Executive education programs are considered by Europe’s top schools as a central part of their mission and their activity. Their faculty inevitably split their teaching time between the degree programs such as the MBA and the open or tailored programs offered to experienced executives. This activity further strengthens professors’ awareness of the business community’s priorities and helps them be more effective in helping students in the degree programs develop the skills and knowledge that will make them most valuable to corporations. European business schools come in such variety of forms that one may be tempted to discard the idea of a truly European approach to business education. Yet, it may precisely that diversity what makes the approach, not only European, but also a very attractive alternative for students and executives from other parts of the world.

In the last decades, European schools have proven to be as good as anyone else in developing effective managers. In the next years we may see how European Schools take the initiative in shaping the future of business education, as they prove to have some unique advantages to develop the kind of business leadership that the XXIst century will demand.

About the author
Angel Cabrera is the Dean of Instituto de Empresa graduate business school in Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Psychology and Cognitive Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology—which he attended as a Fulbright Scholar—and a Telecommunications Engineering degree from Madrid’s Polytechnic University. Before joining Instituto de Empresa, Professor Cabrera worked in management consulting with Accenture and taught or held leadership positions in several universities. At Instituto de Empresa he teaches Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior and conducts research in the fields of knowledge management and strategic human resource management. His work has been presented in several international forums (including the Academy of Management, Strategic Management Society, Cognitive Science Society, Iberoamerican Academy of Management) and published in several journals (including Organization Studies, International Journal of Information Management, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Journal of World Business, Revista de Empresa) and a number of professional periodicals (including the Financial Times’ series in management). Cabrera is a member of the Board of Directors of AACSB International (the world’s largest association of business schools), a member of the EQUIS awarding body (Europe’s business school accreditation system), a trustee of the Spanish Foundation for the Development of Human Resource Management (FUNDIPE) and a member of the International Advisory Council of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York. In January of 2002 Cabrera was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader for Tomorrow. [*D European schools have had to be creative and find alternative ways to provide value to corporations in order to benefit from their financial support *]

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