French universities look East for partnerships

An alliance between France’s Université Paris-Dauphine and Singapore Management University, or SMU, is the latest move by a French university to link up with Asian counterparts and build an international research alliance.

The agreement, which includes collaboration on large scale, multidisciplinary research projects centred around social sciences and management, was signed in Paris by Professor Laurent Batsch, president of Université Paris-Dauphine, and SMU President Professor Arnoud De Meyer last December.

The hope is that it will lead to an international alliance of like-minded universities specialising in research linking business, industry and society, and which will extend across Europe, Asia and other continents, they said.

Both universities are already in talks with other as yet unnamed world-class institutions around the world that share their declared ‘holistic’ approach.

“As societies mature, the need for rigorous, impactful and relevant multidisciplinary research centred around the social sciences will increase,” said De Meyer, who previously taught at France’s international business school INSEAD and was the founding dean of INSEAD's campus in Singapore, launched in the early 2000s, before he headed SMU.

INSEAD, for example, has also formed a partnership with China’s Tsinghua University for a dual degree, an executive MBA or EMBA.

The fact that French universities are looking more towards the East than the West is an indication that “Asia's growth markets have led multinational companies to significantly increase their investment in East Asia”, according to a statement by deans from INSEAD and Tsinghua.

The objective is also to build a presence in mainland China, said Mary Carey, global director of INSEAD’s career development centre. “It is a big draw to offer an EMBA that is able to combine INSEAD's international faculty with some of the best teaching in China.”

Other French institutions with a presence in Singapore include ESSEC Business School, the Grenoble Graduate School of Business and Paris-Sorbonne. This partly reflects strong trade links – the French Chamber of Commerce has been in the city state since 1979 and now represents a “network of over 550 company and individual members”.


The concept for the Dauphine-SMU partnership was jokingly nicknamed the SkyTeam alliance or Star Alliance, in reference to the global network of airline companies. But the universities’ drive to expand internationally is totally serious.

Globalisation is the main reason universities in Europe and elsewhere are creating multi-cultural partnerships with Asian institutions, according to Batsch.

“Students are looking for a double experience – double in terms of institutions and double in terms of culture,” Batsch told University World News. “They’re also seeking the experience of working with international teams because it’s a preparation for international jobs where you may have to move from one country to another during your career.”

Beyond globalisation, the partnerships are also about keeping costs down, as Dauphine can send students to Singapore without investing in a full branch campus, and vice versa.

Currently, France and Singapore each send 30 students to participate in an annual exchange programme between the countries. The students study for a semester, but Batsch said he would like to increase the time to one year.

Both sets of students take their courses in English, as French universities have to offer English-taught tracks to attract foreign students, despite opposition to this in some academic quarters in France.

Ongoing debates question whether France is degrading its cultural identity by having English as a language of instruction, but many universities have already gone beyond this discussion.

“We like great debates, polemics, drama, but on the ground, it’s another thing,” Batsch said, adding that the students from Singapore would be exposed to the French language and culture in any case and would have the option of taking language lessons.

Beyond business

The Dauphine-SMU alliance goes beyond the classic business school model as both institutions have a multidisciplinary approach to training executives, Batsch said.

Although Dauphine is “dedicated to applied economics and management”, its courses include applied mathematics and computer sciences or information technology within these disciplines, and students can study social sciences and law as well.

“It’s absolutely necessary for executives and for leaders to be open-minded, to have a large intellectual view of problems,” Batsch said. “That is the culture of Dauphine, and that’s why we had the idea of making a gathering of similar universities, similar institutions.”

Both Dauphine and SMU stress that they make a good fit, even though Batsch acknowledged that “the academic tradition in Singapore may be more influenced by the American one”.

“We share the same academic values. We believe in research. We believe that training must be backed by research themes, we believe in the social function of education,” Batsch said.

As for the differences in the countries’ political ideologies, Batsch said that partnerships were not being made with states but with academic institutions. “The issue is not what kind of state but what kind of institution. Does it guarantee academic freedom to its faculty and to its students? That is the question. And I have no doubts about that with SMU,” he said.

Expanding abroad

The alliance could expand abroad together, Batsch said. “For instance, if one of us is already settled in a country, this could be the representative for both.”

Dauphine, for instance, has a small campus in the Tunisian capital Tunis with 300 students. “This could be an opportunity for SMU to discover this part of the world without investing, and the reverse could be true, with SMU offering us opportunities in places where we don’t have a presence,” Batsch said.

Apart from Singapore, Dauphine is also tapping into the education market for French expatriates.

With a growing number of French nationals now based in London, the university is scheduled to launch a programme in London in September this year, Batsch said. It will be a bachelor degree in economics and management, with courses mainly in English.

The degree will be a French degree, but there are plans “to make agreements with British institutions”, Batsch added.

According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of French nationals living outside France has grown substantially over the past decade, increasing by over 60% since 2000 at an average annual growth rate of 4%.

French nationals registered as living in Asia-Oceania numbered more than 120,000 in 2012, up nearly 3% from the previous year.