Lyon leaps into the big league

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The Independent Online

Good wine, mouth-watering food and a gateway to the sunny south of France: the team running EM Lyon's MBA programme know they have few problems selling their lifestyle to potential British students. On the other hand, they know that the first place most MBA hopefuls think of when they consider studying across the Channel is Insead, the Fontainbleu-based business school. "We are in a completely different market," says Andrew Roberts, who runs Lyon's MBA programme. "What we are offering here is an internationally recognised course, but one with a continental perspective."

EM Lyon is one of a group of elite French business schools known as the Grandes Ecoles. Just under 40 percent of the 60 people studying for EM Lyon's English-language MBA are non-French. "At the last MBA fair, I was approached by someone working in investment banking in Britain," says Roberts. "He was genuinely interested in us because he thought we could offer him something culturally interesting as well as intellectually rigorous."

Lyon may be two hours by TGV from Paris, but academic staff scoff at the idea that the French capital provides a flavour of real French life. "Lyon is more likely to offer a typical snapshot of continental business practices," says Roberts. "The French have very strong social values. The idea of making people redundant when a company is making a profit is an alien one. In many senses, the employee is seen as more important than the shareholder. Anyone studying here will discover an interesting alternative to so-called Anglo Saxon attitudes. Of course, they are also hotly debated." The business school has close links with local biotech and agro-chemical companies but its expertise is in helping entrepreneurs. Such claims are standard practice for business schools nowadays, but Lyon's Entrepreneurship Centre has been going for 17 years, and 70 per cent of its start-ups are still in operation five years down the line.

This year, having entered the Financial Times top-100 business schools rankings, Lyon has set up a cross-border alliance with schools across the globe. Cranfield is one of several UK universities with longstanding connections with Lyon. Under an exchange programme, Cranfield and Lyon students can qualify for a French and British MBA. Abir Clark, who came from India to do her MBA at Cranfield, spent the summer term in Lyon. "The chance to come to a continental country was a factor when I accepted the place at Cranfield. I wanted to see what the labour market was like here, and it has been a great social experience, too."

Lyon is aiming to have international MBA students reach 50 per cent within the next four years. Andrew Roberts points out that fees and living costs are much cheaper than Paris or London. "It costs the equivalent of around £12,000, which is reasonable." The best advert for the school is, he says, the students themselves. "All the Brits on the course say they want to stay in the south of France to work. As an Englishman who fell in love with the place myself, I can understand why."

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