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There is something very Scandinavian about Inge Jan Henjesand. The newly appointed president of BI Norwegian takes an approach that is both candid and nuanced — a far cry from the gung-ho marketing stance of many of his North American counterparts. What is clear is that the somewhat low-key academic is determined to put the private business school on the international map.

For Prof Henjesand, however, the success of the school will be dependent on its ability to balance its international aspirations with its local roots. “When we [business schools] go to be international we tend to forget where we come from,” says Prof Henjesand. Differentiation is key, he says, and a task that becomes ever harder with the advances in online learning and plans for global reach.

But retaining the school’s tight links with Norwegian business is something that is almost second nature to Prof Henjesand. He worked at the business school until 2007 but then went to work for Abelia, the Norwegian employers’ association, where he was in charge of research, innovation and industrial policy.

Returning to the business school in 2014, Prof Henjesand believes BI and Norwegian industry can move hand in hand as Norway’s companies become more international. But then, many of Norway’s companies already have a strong international tradition, he says, pointing to the oil industry as an example.

Trying to retain the local Scandinavian culture yet operate in an international environment brings a whole set of issues, such as hiring international professors — already some 30 per cent of BI’s academic staff of 380 are from outside the country. “To recruit internationally you have to obey the rules [which have been] designed by others,” says Prof Henjesand. This relates to salaries, workloads and research agendas.

Attracting international students is also tough, especially as the Scandinavian schools are competing with their peers from other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia. “One of the biggest challenges for us in trying to be international is that we don’t have a national strategy for attracting international students,” says Prof Henjesand. “Increasingly we are competing with countries with an international strategy.”

Given these disadvantages, BI Norwegian has clearly much to shout about. To begin with it has four campuses in Norway, and its faculty of 380 and its large student body — who study on bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees — mean it is one of the biggest business schools in Europe. Not only is it accredited by the US accreditation body AACSB, it holds the five-year accreditation from Europe’s Equis, arguably the toughest accreditation of all to receive.

And on top of that it has an executive short course business valued at NKr1.4bn annually, or 40 per cent of the school’s total revenues. As well as the more predictable programmes — for executives in the oil industry — there are some clients that are less obvious. BI runs the national programme for managers in Norway’s primary schools, for example.

On the international front, BI Norwegian already has an 18-year co-operation with Fudan in Shanghai, based on a shared interest in the maritime industry. But Prof Henjesand believes that the financial stability of Norway, and the management of its sovereign wealth fund, should help the school attract overseas students interested in finance.

To achieve this it is critical that the school retains its high standards, says Prof Henjesand. “The value of a diploma from BI has to be very high in terms of the labour market and in terms of those we want to work with.”

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