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At Audencia Nantes, the French business school that has developed a range of “dual competency” masters in management (MiM) programmes that now includes fine arts, architecture, law and public management, it is fitting that the approach was built on engineering principles.

It was not enough for Jean Charroin, the vice-dean, that Audencia shared a postcode with Centrale Nantes engineering school. In 2007, the two schools agreed to share students and faculty so that MiM students at Audencia could take a one-semester engineering specialism, and enable Centrale Nantes to offer its students an “ingénieur-manager” double diploma.

Five years on, the schools are cementing their relationship this month when Philippe Dépincé, Centrale Nantes director of studies, crosses the street to become director of MiM programmes at Audencia.

Audencia has similar relationships with two engineering schools in Brazil, one in Chile and soon, it hopes, another in Russia. “We realised that the development of industrial activities and related services in emerging economies offers promising opportunities for engineers who also understand management,” explains Prof Charroin. “And for our MiM students, it strengthens our ability to offer them a specialism with an international outlook. We aim to equip them, whether they find themselves working with engineers 10,000km away, or sitting next to the finance controller or marketing manager at the heart of the company.”

The success in engineering has encouraged Audencia to extend the dual-competency track into other disciplines. For example, the school has agreed partnerships with the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, the oldest art school in France, and with another neighbour, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. Art history and museum studies students from these schools develop cultural management and arts administration expertise at Audencia, and vice versa. Audencia students can also study in the US at Boston University for one semester and earn a certificate in arts management.

The latest partnership is with Sciences Po Lille, enabling MiM students to gain a specialisation in public management. “Other countries in Europe have had experience of public/private partnerships for a long time, but in France and other Latin countries, we know there will be drastic changes in the management of public activities because governments are so indebted,” says Prof Charroin. “Many areas will be privatised, so there will be a need for students who understand not only political science, public law and public finances, but also such disciplines as marketing and strategy.” With the specialisation being taught in English – as is the case on 60 per cent of the programmes at Audencia – Prof Charroin is hoping it will attract students from across Europe.

At a time when the French government is encouraging many business schools and universities to consider mergers and collaboration – and Audencia is part of the emerging L’Unam cluster of research and higher education institutions in Nantes, Angers and Le Mans – Prof Charroin says there are challenges when forging closer links. “We don’t favour the merging of French business schools, as it simply creates just another French exception. We think it is better to link up with institutions around the world that have different expertise. However, as boundaries disappear, we must be careful not to lose our identity.”

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