Schools learn language of commerce

Recognition of English as the lingua franca of business is spreading to management courses across Europe

If one country has gained a reputation for resisting the growing dominance of English in global commerce, it has to be France. So when French business schools are increasingly announcing programmes taught in English rather than French, you know something significant is happening in the world of business education.

Most of the major international MBA programmes in the country have been taught in English for some time, with the likes of HEC Paris and Insead consistently ranked among the world's best by the Financial Times and BusinessWeek. Now the trend is spreading to other Masters programmes and even first degrees. HEC Paris has five English-speaking MSc programmes, from international finance to marketing to sustainable development.

In Normandy, Rouen Business School has announced that all classes in its Bachelors degree in international business will be in English from the start of the 2012 academic year. Sarah Cooper, the programme director, believes this move offers an attractive international alternative to an increasingly expensive education in England and Wales.

The course includes lessons in French, a six-month international export project and up to one year of work experience to add extra weight to the participants' CVs. "Our future graduates will have both the skills and the personal qualities to be highly competitive and successful in a demanding international job market," says Cooper.

In Lyon, EM-Lyon Business School is extending its range of Masters programmes in English with the launch of an MSc in sports and outdoor industry management, run in partnership with the Outdoor Sports Valley consortium, which represents more than 70 leading brands in the leisure industry. The course delivers the fundamental aspects of management on the EM-Lyon campus before moving to the Alps for a five-month specialisation period taught by professionals in the sector. The final module takes place at the EM-Lyon campus in Shanghai, reflecting the high concentration of production facilities in Asia as well as the rapidly expanding consumer market there.

The proliferation of programmes and courses taught in English is part of a wider move by business schools around the world to appeal to the broadest range of students, and to build classes that are as diverse as possible in terms of nationality and culture. The idea is that much of the value of business education comes from the experiences of fellow students, which can give invaluable insights into the way markets work around the world. And while native English speakers may be outnumbered by people whose first language is Chinese, Russian or Spanish, English is still widely considered the language of business, with a growing number of speakers.

For many years, business schools in many smaller European countries have grasped the need to teach in English. Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, for example, delivers both its MBA and its MSc in management in English; Lund University in Sweden does the same with seven business-oriented Masters programmes; and Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium sidesteps the problem of working in a country with three official languages by adopting English for its management courses.

Now, however, many of the larger European countries are following suit. The IE Business School in Madrid has extended its portfolio of courses with the creation of IE University, situated in a 13th-century monastery in Segovia. Lee Newman, dean of the school of social and behavioral sciences, explains that as well as having their courses delivered in English, students are required to follow foundation courses to develop skills in leadership, critical thinking and management. After that they can focus on subjects as varied as finance, law, psychology and architecture.

"This gives students a cross-disciplinary vocabulary they can use to relate to one another, and develops behaviour skills so that they approach their own diversity and differences in perspective in a constructive way," says Newman.

And in Germany, EBS Universität in Wiesbaden, builds on the country's reputation for manufacturing fast and reliable cars by offering a Masters in automotive management among the courses it delivers in English. Just when we'd finally mastered the Audi slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik.

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