Closed classrooms, interrupted mobility programs and online classes. The covid-19 turned training in Spain and in neighboring countries upside down in March 2020, and today, a year and a half after the outbreak of the pandemic, the experience has yielded some useful lessons to navigate from the educational system towards the new social and economic context.
“Digitization and the development of hybrid learning solutions already existed, but the crisis forced us to adapt and reinvent ourselves to offer the best possible educational experience,” says Josep Franch, Dean of Esade Business School. Some of those changes are here to stay, and now “the challenge is to deliver a great remote experience that can be compared to international experiences on campus,” he explains.
With new courses that give the opportunity to internationalize studies without having to travel to other universities, says the rector of the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna), Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger. Courses that will allow more students to work in teams with students from different schools by reducing financial barriers and travel between countries, adds Adri Meijdam, executive director of undergraduate programs at Erasmus University Rotterdam School of Management.
The impact of covid on higher education is at the origin of the European Common Online Learning (Ecol) network, which also includes Aalto University School of Business (Finland), Università Bocconi (Italy), Copenhagen Business School (Denmark ), HEC Paris (France) and University of St. Gallen (Switzerland).
These eight universities and schools, all specializing in economics and business, have come together with the aspiration of creating a common European online curriculum. “In the new normality that the pandemic left us, we not only expect a more relevant role for technology in teaching, but also the emergence of new actors and learning modalities,” says Franch.
“We will never get fully online. We highly value the importance of face-to-face contacts in education, but the added value and relevance of the courses offered within the Ecol are clear”, says Meijdam from the Netherlands. They promote project work and interaction between students, guaranteeing a high level of international and intercultural learning and, therefore, fulfill the objectives of the initiative, agrees her colleague Hanappi-Egger, from the Vienna University of Economics.
In the first semester of the 2021-2022 academic year, each member institution of the network will offer between two and six courses to its undergraduate students. Covering a wide variety of topics, they aim to be innovative in their content and pedagogical approach, and are designed to develop students’ skills and competencies.
The subjects, all in English, must meet a series of criteria, such as being optional, online and with credits; focus on issues related to the economy and international business, or be linked to the cultural and business context of the country where the center associated with the network is located.
On the other hand, and although the teaching format is subject to the decision of each institution and its teaching staff, the members of the Ecol network agree that the courses must have a high degree of interaction between students through life projects real —solving, for example, a business challenge presented by a multinational—, master classes combined with the study of business cases and a sum of theoretical sessions taught by teachers and collaborative learning dynamics in teams. Likewise, virtual teaching is intended when possible, reducing travel and influencing the behavior of students and teachers. “International mobility programs on campus have always enriched the educational experience, facilitating intercultural contact between students as part of the academic curriculum, but digital tools come to expand and enrich the training offer,” says Franch.
The challenge in the medium term? Without being a specific objective, “Ecol is ready to welcome other universities with similar ideas and the same quality standards,” says Hanappi-Egger. Universities and business schools that, according to her colleague Meijdam from Rotterdam, belong to the CEMS alliance [ver despiece]. “Our ambition as a network”, concludes the Spanish representative of Ecol, “is to become a stronger European player to better compete on the global stage”.
The eight higher education centers that the Ecol network has just launched have a long history of institutional collaboration through double degrees, degrees and joint projects, and are members of the PIM and CEMS alliances.
The first is a consortium of business schools from around the world that exchange university students. It was founded in 1973 by the École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC), the New York University (NYU) and the London Business School (LBS) and today has 65 institutions characterized by their academic demands and their vocation for international cooperation.
Created in December 1988 by four of these centers —Esade is one of the founders—, CEMS launched the first European business training through a single master’s degree. Today it is global in nature and counts on the participation of multinational companies to combine academic theory with business practices.