Catholic tinge to academic rigour

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Less than a decade ago, the site bordering Km 50 of the road north from Buenos Aires was home to a handful of cattle chewing on the rich grass that has made Argentina a world famous producer of beef.

Today the cattle have been replaced by a university campus so new that the smell of paint and plaster still hangs in the corridors.

The new buildings house the Austral University and the IAE - which is considered by many to be the best business school in Latin America and one of the top 30 in the world.

The facilities, which for the business school alone cost more than $30m, have certainly helped consolidate IAE’s reputation. Plasma screens greet students in the entrance halls of the four buildings, which are arranged neatly around a central courtyard.

High-technology classrooms boast sumptuous seating, video conferencing, mirrored booths that hide simultaneous translators . . . and old fashioned blackboards and chalk.

“The blackboards were a big decision for us,” says Marcelo Paladino, the school’s co-director. “We put it to our teaching faculty and most of them wanted blackboards so that’s what we gave them.”

Prof Paladino says the school’s design has tried to take the best from each of the world’s leading business schools and universities. The courtyard idea, for example, came from Harvard.

But at least two other factors have given the school global recognition. The first is the school’s unusually large investment in its faculty. IAE has 45 full time professors, more than 80 per cent of whom were paid to train with the school for up to 10 years before starting to teach.

Fernando Fragueiro, IAE dean, explains that the first two years are typically spent working as research assistants before taking the school’s two year executive MBA course. That is followed by a year dedicated exclusively to applying for a PhD at one of the world’s top business schools, which the IAE funds entirely.

That might seem risky but Mr Fragueiro says they all come back to teach. Not because they are contractually bound to do so - “the only contract we have with them during those years is one of trust” - but because the school offers them something different. “We cannot always compete on salary, but we offer the chance to be a part of a family with deeply rooted values,” he says.

Those values are taken directly from the Roman Catholic church - although Mr Fragueiro points out that not all the teaching staff are Catholic.

Opus Dei, a conservative branch of the church, advises the institution to ensure course content is in line with Christian values, and the school is adorned with religious icons. There is even a chapel with two full time priests.

The result for the 550 students in each year of the IAE’s open courses is a focus on business study in which people occupy centre stage.

“Many business schools just teach the technical aspects of management but that does not allow them to approach their activity as a social science,” says Mr Fragueiro.

“We train people to be better managers, and that means being better human beings as well as having better technical skills.”

So what are the plans for the future? One aim is to continue developing custom courses for companies throughout the region.

The school already dedicates 30 per cent of its activity to developing such courses, and has programmes running with Exxon, Unilever, Novartis and even one in Madrid with Repsol, the Spanish energy company.

Another is the promotion of research with an international angle among its teaching faculty.

A further aim is to deepen ties with other leading business schools. IAE already does a programme for the Wharton School, and its academic advisory committee includes professors from Harvard Business School and Barcelona’s IESE business school.

As Mr Fragueiro puts it: “If you want to be a global business school, you have to meet global standards.”

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