Alba Graduate Business School is building on an opportunity created by the Greek financial crisis.

The country’s most prestigious business school has agreed to team up with the American College of Greece, a long-established private university in Athens, to run graduate business and professional qualification programmes while continuing to offer executive education.

Professor Nickolaos Travlos, dean of Alba, says: “We saw the crisis as an opportunity to recast our model and look outside for other partners.”

The collaboration offers many synergies, he adds, and will allow the schools to pursue a joint strategy to boost their already leading position in south-east Europe.

Alba, a not-for-profit school funded by tuition fees, donations and corporate sponsorships, has been feeling the squeeze of the recession. Applications were down this year, while some applicants from South Korea and China pulled out following the recent riots.

The link-up with American College, with an alumni base of more than 30,000 and strong connections with the Greek American community in the US, gives Alba a chance to resume its expansion. There are plans to increase the yearly intake by about 40 per cent to roughly 1,000 students. It is also hoped the collaboration could encourage Greek faculty at world-class business schools to return to Athens.

Alba was founded 20 years ago by a group of senior Greek business people to provide qualified executives for local family-owned companies making the transition to professional management. It now operates under the auspices of the Federation of Greek Industries, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and the Hellenic Management Association.

Its MBA programme has expanded to include offerings in shipping, financial services and banking.

At the same, Alba has gained a place on the global business education map through high-quality research published by its 22-member faculty, and an unmatched record in the European Business Plan of the Year competition. Its 2,500 alumni are seen as a catalyst for change in corporate activity in Greece, which traditionally sends more than 10,000 young people to study abroad every year because of a lack of specialised courses at state-dominated universities.

Alba’s main regional competitors are two private Turkish universities offering degrees in English, founded by the Koç and Sabanci groups, and SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy. Yet there is plenty of space for Alba and American College to develop joint offerings, with demand for professional qualifications projected to grow rapidly across south-east Europe, Prof Travlos says.

“There is a fast-developing middle class in these countries. Students from Belgrade and Skopje, for example, will increasingly seek high-quality international education in this region,” he says.

Manos Athinaios, a recent Alba graduate, chose to study in Greece while building a business he had started in the shipping industry. “It made sense for me as a budding entrepreneur,” he says.

His decision could soon start paying off. He led an Alba team to victory at last year’s European business plan contest. Their idea to develop easy-to-use devices for people with sensory disabilities has now evolved into a start-up involving Athinaios and another team member.

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