EUROPE: An international business school alliance

Two business schools in France and England have created a multi-layered alliance that they hope will become the blueprint for a European business school to rival their global counterparts in the US and Asia.

The Burgundy School of Business [BSB] and Oxford Brookes University Business School say their approach is unique in that it brings the schools together on all levels, from administrative functions to research and teaching. The curriculum has been internationalised to make it appeal to French and British students alike.

Stéphan Bourcieu, Dean of BSB, says most international partnerships between business schools are what he calls "a monopoint alliance", that is, centred around one shared project such as a jointly run MBA programme. "There are usually no other points of connection," says Bourcieu. "Our goal is different - to create a joint business school based on connections at all levels."

"We want to be able to compete with the global business schools in the US, China and Korea," adds Bourcieu. "In Europe our business schools tend to be quite small. Our goal is to have international visibility and to be able to compete on a global level."

The idea for the alliance, which was officially launched on 25 March, came from the BSB. Bourcieu says they are a medium-sized French business school with a good national reputation, but "a limited European one".

In 2007 they laid out their plans and identified schools in the UK that might be interested and were on a similar level to them and therefore interested in building their European reputation. Oxford Brookes was at the top of their list and they came on board in November 2007.

The UK was chosen as France and Britain contain the largest number of business schools accredited by EQUIS, the European Quality Improvement System. The alliance aims to strengthen the case for EQUIS and other accreditations and boost both of schools' positions in global rankings.

In 2008 BSB and Oxford Brookes started the process of bringing the two schools together, but Bourcieu says it will take five to seven years to complete the process. It includes redesigning the curriculum to make it more international. They have created a joint programme where students have the opportunity to do a year of their degree either in France or the UK and obtain two degrees. They are now working on the masters programme which will be operational by September 2012.

They have, for instance, created new joint masters programmes, including a master of arts in food, wine and culture. This builds on BSB's strong reputation in the wine business and Oxford Brookes' reputation in gastronomy and hospitality management. "It's a programme that builds on our strengths and shares our expertise," says Bourcieu.

He admitted that there are some differences in how French and British institutions teach. For instance, there are more contact hours between students and faculty in French institutions whereas British universities are "more based on personal work than face to face contact".

The alliance will keep the best of both systems, he said, by encouraging faculty and students from each institution to teach and learn in both universities. "It will be interesting for my students to be taught by British faculty and to get another vision," says Bourcieu.

Another hurdle is British students' reluctance to leave their country. This, says Bourcieu, is possibly due to language and cultural issues. But he says 50% of BSB's courses are already taught in English. The school is also offering British students a French course to help them cope with living in France.

The first batch of UK students completed their first seminar in France earlier this year and the first year of the joint undergraduate degree has started. The first joint masters course launches in September. An annual research conference programme began last year and some BSB faculty have already started supervising Oxford Brookes PhD students. Last year there was a faculty exchange between nine Oxford Brookes and 12 BSB lecturers.

The alliance is also looking at setting up joint events between students, such as a regular rugby tournament. "Our goal is to create a tradition that is like the Oxford and Cambridge boat race," says Bourcieu. Further cooperation is planned in areas such as marketing, corporate relations and finance. "The plan is to create a large number of points of connection which will increase over the next few years," he states.

The alliance does not involve any transfer of money. Rather than pay French staff to teach at Oxford Brookes and vice versa, the two institutions will exchange hours so one hour of teaching by a Burgundy business school lecturer will be exchanged for one hour of teaching by an Oxford Brookes lecturer. The two institutions will approach European and corporate sources to get funding for joint research projects.

Bourcieu says the long-term plan, three to five years down the road, is to take on other partners from other countries, such as Germany or Spain. But for now the focus is on strengthening the relationship between BSB and Oxford Brookes.