The campus's director is surprised by the broad range of nationalities on site

Ask French people abroad what they miss about their country, and food is high on the list. But Professor Patrick Gougeon, the new UK director of ESCP Europe's UK campus, has no such regrets. He's happy to be in the land of les rosbifs.

Already he plans to join the Campaign for Real Ale, and says he loves British cuisine – especially fish and chips with mushy peas, lamb with mint sauce, and smoked mackerel. Gougeon is moving to London after more than 30 years at the Paris branch of ESCP – a long career which included three years at a partner institute in Bangkok.

ESCP Europe has campuses in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Turin, and students on its European Executive MBA spend time at each of them. They can choose to take international seminars from a choice of five or six of the partner institutions in 33 countries, including China, India, Brazil and the US. Those on Masters programmes also travel across Europe to study at different campuses

Gougeon has taken up his new post after a career which has included a stint as the MBA director and his current role as co-director of the specialised Masters in energy management. But for now he is busy familiarising himself with the historic campus in north-west London, built around a 19th-century seminary.

Even Gougeon, used to the international focus of the Paris campus, was surprised at the wide span of nationalities among prospective and current students as he arrived for a London open day.

Master in management student Alessandro Casablanca, 22, for example, is using the Masters course as part of the five years it takes to get a degree in Italy. He studied for two years at the University of Turin, then had a year at ESCP Europe in Turin and will be in London for a year. His fifth year will be spent at ESCP Europe in Paris.

"I will come out with a qualification from three countries. If I'd just studied at university in Italy, I would have just one degree; I would have missed out on the languages, the experience of living in two different countries, the practical, hands-on training, the networking and the internships," he says.

Niklas Schirmann, 28, from Germany, went to evening classes to learn French while working in international sales for Siemens, which meant he could start his Masters in management in Paris, spend the second year in London and the last year back home in Berlin.

One of the world's oldest business schools, ESCP Europe was established by a group of economists and traders in 1819 as the Ecole Spéciale de Commerce et d'Industrie, soon renamed the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce. It moved to its current location in the central Avenue de la République in 1859, and by the mid 20th century was one of the most élite of France's grandes écoles with a highly competitive entry. In 1999, it merged with the "youngster" EAP Ecole Européenne des Affaires, which had been created in 1973 as a European initiative to create a transnational business school. In 2009, the name was changed from ESCP-EAP to ESCP Europe.

Hands-on experience of working with industry is key to the courses, and the college makes best use of its 35,000 alumni as guest speakers, providers of industry-based projects and internships. Many of its lecturers have worked in industry or for leading consultancy firms such as McKinsey & Company, and a high proportion continue to work as consultants for international companies such as Omega, Pfizer and L'Oréal.

"There's no ivory-tower thinking about management issues. We want students to have the mindset of a manager and a set of skills through connection with the corporate world on a day-to-day basis," says Marie Taillard, professor of marketing at ESCP Europe's London campus.

Studying at more than one campus gives students the chance to meet senior business managers from different countries and start networking, according to Gougeon. "The students have a business life already, and very often the questions they ask these high-profile managers are about corporate strategy. They might want to know why a company decided to merge and what happened post-merger."

Alongside its flagship 18-month European Executive MBA, the Masters in management and the Masters in European business, ESCP Europe has introduced a range of specialist courses, such as the Masters in marketing and creativity.

Now Gougeon intends to expand the specialist Masters degree in energy management that he launched in Paris five years ago. Spain can contribute expertise in renewables because of its use of solar power, while the UK is special in having an energy market with competition between providers.

Gougeon also hopes to launch a programme in law and finance, which he believes is essential in international business today.

"While UK law is the dominant international model, certain areas of contract are based on French law. Finance is more and more to do with law, and it is important to have these topics covered," he says.

"My intention is to identify areas of excellence which make sense for a European organisation and which are attractive to European people."

But first he has to decide where to put his desk in the cavernous office which he has inherited, and what to put on the walls.

'The faculty is very strong'

George Chamberlain, 31, from London is the director of sales for Image Source Ltd, a leading independent producer of cross-media content, such as photographs. He enrolled on ESCP Europe's executive MBA because of its European focus.

"We do a lot of business in Europe – for me that's where the future lies. That's where the markets are. Too often, we look beyond to Asia or the US.

I looked at the league tables, and the Financial Times ranks the European Executive MBA programme third in the world for career progression and international experience, and in the top 25 for the world rankings. I've attended courses in Paris, Berlin, Turin, Madrid, Texas and Brazil!

This is a fantastic programme with a very strong faculty. I was taught by top professors when I was at the University of Cambridge, and the lecturers at ESCP are of the same quality. I had the best educational experience I've ever had on one of the electives. It sounds twee, but I have had such a positive experience it has made a big change to my life and widened my horizons."