The Bologna Declaration

“A Europe of knowledge is now widely recognized as an irreplaceable factor for social and human growth and as an indispensable component to consolidate and enrich the European citizenship, capable of giving its citizens the necessary competencies to face the challenges of the new millennium, together with an awareness of shared values and belonging to a common social and cultural space.”

Business schools on both sides of the Atlantic are wholeheartedly welcoming reforms brought by the Bologna Accord. Many already are gearing up for more international MBA students and greater competition throughout Europe’s fragmented higher education system.

“Europe is faced with world-class competition to educate the most talented students, with many of the best American universities disposing of budgets five to ten times greater than their European counterparts, plus worldwide reputations,” said France’s Minister of Industry Nicole Fontaine. “Europe must become the world’s most competitive economy in terms of knowledge.”

Getting things off the ground is ESSEC-Manheim, which launched its “academic European Airbus” in 2004. Along with the new executive MBA, with modular curriculum to be taught over two years at ESSEC, the school intends to add several more yet-to-be-determined universities in various countries to “attract students from throughout the world, in competition with the best Anglo-Saxon universities.”

“Launched by visionary Europeans some 20 years ago, the Airbus consortium, today EADS, must have seemed just as utopian. Who could have foreseen that it would become Number 1 in the world, ahead of Boeing?” challenged ESSEC Dean Pierre Tapie.

Education experts at nearly all levels believe full implementation of the European Higher Education Area will greatly improve MBA programs. Stated reforms will bring increased quality and competition among business schools, greater brand recognition, expanded possibilities for transfer students and total English-based education, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. It also is expected that ever-increasing numbers of European business school graduates will seek advanced degrees like their American counterparts. According to the AACSB, 29 percent of Anglo-American business school graduates say they plan to continue their education.

Redesigning business

ESSEC's partnership with Mannheim dates back to 1982, when its first double-degree agreement was signed. In 2002, ESSEC further developed this union by launching the European MBA, with partners Mannheim and Warwick in the U.K. In the longer term, the school says, “a true, pan-European Business School may be set up on the basis of this partnership.”

Further, the school in 2003 established a common research fund with 50,000 euros per year earmarked towards pursuing this goal and creating a common legal structure.

Indeed, many schools already have brought in experts to review and redesign their MBA programs to fit the new frontierless format. Among the first to announce major changes, new programs and partnerships are the following:

• ESCP-EAP, which recently expanded its international reach by opening campuses in London and Turin. The school now offers five European campuses, plus Monterrey, Mexico and Bangkok and is considering adding a partner in India.
• The Norwegian School of Management, by implementing a new three-year Bachelor of Science in Business to be followed by a two-year Master of Science in Business.
• TEMA, the high-tech branch of Reims Business School in France, announced plans to expand its four-year program into an additional fifth year, beginning in September.
• Audencia in Nantes reorganized to create Audencia Europe, joining with schools in Britain and Spain to create a trilingual European management MBA.

MBAs become frequent fliers

Streamlining graduate education allows business students to freely transfer back and forth between any European and American institutions. Since their course credits will count on both continents, new doors are opened for increased collaboration between students and schools.

Jean Louis Scaringella, Dean of ESCP-EAP, said the dramatic growth of the European Union is creating an expanding business arena and the further convergence of national economies. In this context, the demand for business leaders with skills and knowledge to work across different markets, sectors and functions also is rapidly rising.

“Individuals need the ability to function in their ‘home' culture, as well as strategies to retain their identity and operate effectively in socially complex geographies,” he said. “ESCP-EAP students live, study and conduct projects in different countries. They operate in several languages and are immersed in different national business cultures.”

Roots of accord

Education ministers from 29 countries gathered in Bologna, the location of Europe's oldest university, in June 1999 to sign a declaration calling for “greater compatibility and comparability” in higher education. They clearly defined international standards in order to introduce a single American-style Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degree format with degrees earned in three, five and eight years, respectively.” 

Throughout the process, education ministers have sought the most effective means to introduce the following objectives:

• Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees.
• Implementation of a system based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate.
• Establishment of a system of credits such as the ECTS system.
• Promotion of mobility by overcoming obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement.
• Promotion of European cooperation in quality assurance.
• Increasing the attractiveness of the European Higher Education area.