Fostering International Collaboration

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Monday, July 26, 2021
By Jean-Philippe Ammeux, Carlos Moslares, Eileen McAuliffe
Photo by iStock/anilakkus
Three European business schools design a joint program to prepare undergraduates for an uncertain international business climate.

The European Union has made it clear that it is prioritizing collaboration within its higher education sector, especially since its 2014 creation of Erasmus+, which supports the education and training of youth across the continent. But after the United Kingdom’s government voted to leave the EU in 2016, European higher education entered a period of uncertainty. That uncertainty was accelerated exponentially by the unprecedented health and socioeconomic crisis presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business schools, with their increasing emphasis on internationalization, were rendered particularly vulnerable to travel bans issued during the pandemic. National lockdown policies radically changed their models when it forced them suddenly to find ways to deliver their international business programs entirely online. 

One way for business schools to deliver international programs, even during times of disruption, is by forming strong international partnerships. This belief inspired our three institutions to create the European Business Bachelor program, a jointly delivered international study program which allows undergraduates to earn degrees from all three partner schools.

At the time, our intent was to strengthen our positions against the backdrop of Brexit. We wanted to create a program in which students—and their credits—could transfer easily from campus to campus and country to country. The onset of the pandemic has only reinforced the importance of international collaboration to make it easier for business schools to deliver their international programs during times of uncertainty.

Partnering During a Pandemic

Our creation of the European Business Bachelor was initiated in 2019 by Jean-Philippe Ammeux, dean at IÉSEG School of Management in Lille, France. Ammeux believed it would be strategically beneficial to create a multilateral partnership with AACSB-accredited schools in the south of Europe and in the U.K. IÉSEG first invited IQS School of Management in Barcelona to become its partner in southern Europe, as a natural extension of an established relationship between both institutions based on shared characteristics such as accreditation, program quality and alignment, and English-language program delivery.

Soon after, Carlos Moslares, dean at the IQS School of Management, served on the peer review team for Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in the U.K. as it pursued AACSB accreditation. During a peer review team visit, Moslares realized that, like IÉSEG and IQS, Sheffield Business School placed a strategic emphasis on international business education and applied learning. Because the three schools shared similar philosophies and ambitions, in March 2020 IÉSEG and IQS worked with Sheffield’s dean, Eileen McAuliffe, to make her school their U.K. partner. This timing was perfect, as Sheffield had just earned its initial AACSB accreditation.

All three of our institutions soon were faced with the immense challenge of refining a joint partnership as France, Spain, and the U.K. entered lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic. We started by working together virtually to create a detailed curriculum map, so that we could better understand where our learning goals and courses overlapped. We used that map to form an outline of the joint program.

Next, we drew up a detailed contract, with terms that accommodated each institution’s individual culture and traditions and worked within each country’s legal framework. To better manage logistical complications, we decided to use the Swiss law as our gold standard, because it met the legal requirements of all three countries while providing us with a single framework to follow.

We decided to adopt an exchange-based model for the program, drawing details from dual-degree arrangements our schools already had in place with other institutions. By classifying students as exchange students, we could more easily navigate institutional differences. And by using a predetermined set of courses, we could more easily maintain consistency as students transferred credits from school to school.

Our schools then submitted a finalized curriculum map for the program, including all learning goals, to the appropriate government agencies in all three countries. These agencies soon approved the transfer of credits among our institutions. After just over a year of planning, the European Business Bachelor program will welcome its first cohort of students in September 2021. 

Structure of the Curriculum

We plan to select 20 students per institution, based on their academic performance. We decided that a cohort size of 60 will be small enough to allow students to move effectively through the program as a group, build rapport with each other, and develop cultural empathy. This size also makes it possible for us to provide more personalized tutoring. But the cohort also is large enough to provide students with a valuable international alumni network after graduation.

Students in the European Business Bachelor program follow the same educational path all four years of the program. They will study the equivalent of two years at their home institutions and a year at each of the other two host institutions. In addition, every student will complete a 12-week internship between the third and fourth year.

Students at IÉSEG and IQS will spend the entire first year on their home campuses. Students at Sheffield will operate slightly differently, splitting semesters between two campuses during the first and second years of the program. This ensures that SHU students have full access to funding and student loans, as the British system requires students stay at least one semester per year at their home institutions (except the sandwich year, a term that refers to a year that students can spend working in industry).

For the mandatory 12-week internship, students at IÉSEG and IQS will have the opportunity to work at global organizations all over the world—not only in Spain, France, and the U.K. Students at SHU will complete their internships in the United Kingdom, because the British system does not allow them to spend more than 50 percent of their programs abroad.

The table below shows how each institution’s students will progress through the program. Non-bolded text indicates on which campus each institution’s students will be studying at a particular point, while bolded text indicates when students will be studying together:

European Business Bachelor Program Schedule
  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 12-Week Internship Year 4
Sheffield Hallam University Semester 1: SHU
Semester 2: IÉSEG
Semester 1: IÉSEG
Semester 2: SHU
Both semesters at IQS With companies in the U.K. All students at SHU
IÉSEG Semester 1 and 2: IÉSEG Semester 1 and 2: IÉSEG Both semesters at IQS With companies worldwide All students at SHU
IQS Semester 1 and 2: IQS              Semester 1 and 2: IÉSEG Both semesters at IQS With companies worldwide All students at SHU

Upon acceptance to the program, all students will receive handbooks outlining program requirements; they also will be invited to attend annual orientations that will clarify what they must do for the upcoming year. Each institution has a dedicated coordinator who will help students manage their course selection and ensure that they acquire the appropriate number of credits required for graduation, even as they move from campus to campus. 

Intercultural Development, International Consultancy

The European Business Bachelor program features a wide range of cultural, social, and language-related activities to ensure that international students will successfully integrate into the cultures of their host campuses, as well as to enable local students to benefit from the rich cultural diversity their peers bring. For example, we will ask students to use Diversity Icebreaker, a tool created by a Norwegian psychologist to promote intercultural communication and team development.

A Cultural Diversity Passport initiative has also been designed to help students better recognize and respect elements of their own cultures and the cultures of others—a crucial skill for students preparing to work in the global economy. It is a compulsory activity, for which students must pass two components: an academic course and the International PEER-learning activity. PEER—which stands for prepare, engage, evaluate, and reflect—is a model described by Prue Holmes and Gillian O’Neill in the book Becoming Intercultural: Inside and Outside the Classroom. Over the course of a semester, each student will participate in at least three guided PEER interactions with another student from a significantly different culture. After each meeting, the students will create individual short videos in which they reflect on what they have learned; in the final meeting, both students will create a single video in which they share their feelings about the experience.

Because applied learning is core to the strategic aims of the program, students will complete a mandatory 12-week consultancy module before their final year. Students will work in small groups to examine problems faced by companies engaged in international business development. The members of each group will be required to deliver a business report and presentation to their assigned company, as well as clearly demonstrate how they worked together as a project team.

We plan to support students in their learning in the following ways:

Introductory workshops. We will deliver a range of workshops designed to help students better navigate the program in real time. Some workshops will outline key assessment tasks and explore application of theories and concepts in international business. Others will explain the company projects to which students have been assigned, as well as clarify the expectations of relevant stakeholders.

Varied learning experiences. By working as individuals and in small groups, students will have opportunities to explore their management competencies in different contexts. In addition, as part of their assessment portfolios, students will be asked to reflect regularly on what they have learned.

Mentorship. In addition to working with the dedicated coordinator on each campus, students will be assigned a member of our European Business Bachelor team, who will supervise them as they work on their 12-week company projects and complete their coursework. They also will be assigned individual mentors, who will help them in their career development, résumé and cover letter writing, and interview preparation.

Springboard for Future Opportunities

To deliver this program as seamlessly as possible, the coordinators from each institution will meet regularly to ensure that everyone is on the same page. In addition, groups of faculty from all three campuses, organized by discipline, will meet both virtually and face-to-face to coordinate courses and consultancy projects. We also will collect a wealth of useful assurance of learning data, which we will use to drive continuous improvement and support AACSB accreditation.

Additionally, a management committee consisting of members from each institution will meet a minimum of four times per year to evaluate the program to discern whether there is need for adjustment. Committee members also will scope out future joint research projects and enhanced opportunities for staff mobility and development. We hope that the European Business Bachelor program will be a springboard for new opportunities for collaboration.

COVID-19 will no doubt continue to challenge the program in the weeks and months to come. Our aim is to have students traveling from one country to another but if new coronavirus travel restrictions are imposed, a short-term hybrid model could be adopted.

We believe this program will strike a chord with students seeking international educational experiences grounded in applied, multicultural learning. The program’s multifaceted collaborative design will allow us to continue graduating highly skilled leaders positioned to succeed in international business, no matter what disruptions might arise in the years ahead.

Jean-Philippe Ammeux
Dean, IESEG School of Management
Carlos Moslares
Dean, IQS School of Management
Eileen McAuliffe
Dean, Sheffield Business School
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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