Mon. May 23rd, 2022

International experience is “extremely valuable” for Fernanda Juárez Trevino, a Mexican Bachelor of Business Administration student at Esade Business School in Barcelona. “One of the reasons I chose to study at Esade was the opportunity to share classes and meet people from all over the world and broaden my thinking,” she says.

At its peak, Covid-19 paid for most foreign exchange programs, allowing students to spend a semester at a business school in another country. And while some of this is resumed, travel across the border remains challenging and uncertain as the pandemic continues.

But Trevino, who wants to pursue a career in investment banking, builds her international experience in a different way: by enrolling in two online courses in finance and quantitative analysis – one at SDA Bocconi Business School in Milan, Italy, and the others at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

“I was able to make contact with both international and local students in the classes,” she says. “It also gives me a sense of what it’s like to take classes from other top management schools with high-level professors – and all from the comfort of my own home.”

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Trevino’s virtual foreign study option was made possible by the European Common Online Learning (Ecol), a new grouping of eight business schools. The other five members are Aalto University School of Business in Finland, Copenhagen Business School, Rotterdam Business School, HEC Paris and Vienna University of Economics and Business.

The schools agreed in May this year to work together to provide an online international experience for undergraduate students who are unable to travel due to Covid-19. This virtual option will continue even when personal exchange programs are fully resumed, says Josep Franch, Esade’s dean.

“The idea was not to provide a replacement for the experience of going to another campus, but a complementary experience that would allow you to enrich your international exposure in other ways,” says Prof Franch. “We have always placed a very high value on the exchange experience and when we talk to recruiters, they tell us that it is very important to them as well.”

For this first, pilot year, each member school selects and enrolls approximately 25 students in a list of 48 existing online elective courses run by their partners, with subjects ranging from international business and economics to sustainability and inclusion. Qualifying courses must be credit-bearing, delivered in English and provide opportunities to interact and work in teams with fellow students.

Ecol aims to “build a common online curriculum that can be expanded and developed over time”. Prof Franch says he can anticipate that the initiative will be extended to postgraduate programs, to other business schools and may even be the basis for a complete degree program.

“It’s just a trial this year and we’ll have to evaluate the results,” he says, “but if you’re thinking long term, why not set up a full degree or certificate based on this concept?”

Collaboration is becoming the new norm, according to a recent report by consulting firm CarringtonCrisp, which notes: “The co-creation of new programs and new approaches to learning will become commonplace.” Europeans are familiar with the joint creation of common standards and harmonization of policies and practices. Earlier this year, for example, the Federation of European Academic Medical Sciences discussed the harmonization of doctoral training and a potential EU-wide common curriculum to facilitate medical students’ transition from classroom to hospital.

The EU-initiated Bologna process, dating back to 1999, transformed European higher education and business education by ensuring comparability in the standards of European degrees, in part to promote greater student mobility between nations. It is no coincidence that the Ecol members were already connected by Cems, one of the world’s oldest business school networks, which started as a partnership of four European schools in 1988. Cems now represents more than 30 business schools, with 1,300 students allowed every year. to study a general master’s degree in management curriculum at a minimum of two schools, supplemented by an internship at a partner company.

The Qtem network of business schools, with an interest in quantitative techniques for economics and management, has its origins in Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management and offers a master’s degree program. European schools were also at the forefront of the more recent Fome alliance, which aims to create a new standard for online learning through collaborative pedagogy.

But the process of harmonization is not simple, admits Felicitas Strittmatter, a program manager in student mobility services at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen which, before Ecol, had already launched a virtual option to study abroad at Vienna University of Economics and Business and Copenhagen Business School. “It is quite challenging to pull it all together as different electives at different schools offer different numbers of credits and have different academic term dates,” she says.

However, she adds that students like the flexibility of the online exchange, which also gives an impression of what it is like to study at another business school in another country. She says the virtual option is also appealing to students who work part-time and cannot afford to give up their jobs to study abroad for a semester. “Before the pandemic, our travel exchange experiences involved all the costs of traveling and living in another country,” she says. “Now students can enjoy an international experience we have not thought of before.”

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