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It is almost obligatory for business schools to trumpet their love of ­innovation, but Spain’s IE has a better claim than many for trying fresh approaches to business education.

Established in 1973 in Madrid, and now ranked as one of Europe’s leading schools, IE was among the first to offer an executive MBA 20 years ago, and later spearheaded a move into online education.

The school’s international reputation now helps it attract about 2,000 students from more than 90 countries each year, and it has built an alumni network of more than 40,000 with links to 25 offices spread from India to Chile.

“When we ask our students why they chose IE, they often say it is entrepreneurialism first, and diversity second,” says Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño, the dean. “We have one of the highest-diversity environments, not just in terms of the numbers of passports, but in terms of gender, culture and different visions of the world.”

These aims are well demonstrated by IE University’s cross-disciplinary ­approach to teaching law, architecture and business and by the combined executive MBA ­programme with Brown University in the US, which sees students take courses in social sciences, literature and philosophy.

Prof Íñiguez argues that modern business education should equip students with a broad knowledge base that will enable them to avoid seeing problems in too rigid or theoretical a fashion. “We believe that humanities modules should be part of the integral education of managers,” he says. “By developing these skills, you can make students much more reflective, and if managers read more literature, they will become better entrepreneurs and more creative.”

IE counts high-profile ­individuals among its alumni and teaching staff. Last year, two very different members of that network made headlines. In December, Spain’s newly elected government appointed Luis de Guindos, an economist at the school, as its minister of finance and competitiveness. Earlier last year, IE expelled the late Khamis Gaddafi, who was studying an international MBA, before returning to Libya to lead special forces brigades against the uprising attacking his father’s dictatorship. IE’s decision to expel the 27-year-old does not appear to have caused damage to its reputation.

The school continues to offer many of its executive MBA programmes, and specialised masters, including those in finance and marketing, in so-called “blended” form, where students combine face-to-face learning with long-distance, interactive modules. The online element of the IE programme was at first attacked by some commentators as being “armchair MBAs” that could deprive students of valuable interactive classroom debate and criticism.

For the dean, the increasing adoption of similar programmes by rival schools demonstrates the wider acceptance of this idea. “We have led many trends, and we still see this as our challenge: how to constantly reinvent ourselves, and how to constantly innovate.”

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