Insead’s €5,200 summer school for teenagers

The elite French MBA provider is teaching the basics of business to those aged between 15 and 17

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Business school students are notorious for pulling all-nighters to meet work deadlines. That ought not to be the case with a group arriving this month for a €5,200 course at Insead, the elite French purveyor of MBAs.

Far from working until the small hours, these students will be expected to be tucked up in bed, with lights out, at 11pm (except on Fridays and Saturdays, when they get to stay up an extra hour).

For the second year, Insead is hosting 15-17 year olds at a two-week residential summer school, promising to give them “a unique and transformative experience” at its campus amid the forest of Fontainebleau, on the southern outskirts of Paris.

A typical day on the Summer@Insead scheme, which is taught in English, will run from 8.30am to 5pm, with a mix of classes, company visits and guest speakers — all aimed at increasing the teenagers’ “business awareness”.

In strategy class, they will be asked to ponder what managers can do “to drive performance and growth in the face of fierce competition in an uncertain world”.

In decision-making, elements of applied psychology will be introduced to examine how to make better choices amid uncertainty. In negotiation, they will learn how to discern a counterpart’s underlying needs.

Visits will include trips to hot Paris start-up BlaBlaCar (founded by an Insead MBA graduate) and an innovation centre run by consultant Accenture. In the late afternoon and evenings there will be sport, games and other more relaxing activities.

Peter Zemsky, Insead deputy dean and director of the summer school, says the course is a powerful way for it to reconnect with alumni, rather than being a standalone moneymaker.

Almost all the 70 teenagers signed up for the course are children of former Insead students, who feel that the school is “a little bit of the family fabric”, he says.

The alumni network has also been tapped to provide counsellors in their twenties to help mentor the students and direct extracurricular activities.

Alumni received a 10 per cent discount on the fee but this goodwill gesture could pay off if they end up donating to the school or signing up for one of its executive education courses.

Such an approach could leave Insead vulnerable to criticism that it is creating a closed loop of entitlement.

Prof Zemsky acknowledges the risk and says this is likely to be addressed in future iterations of the course if it continues, through scholarships to “bring in less privileged kids”.

However, he stresses that the geographic and cultural diversity of Insead’s MBA students is even greater at the level of their children, given the peripatetic lives many of their families have led in pursuit of their elite careers.

Insead is by no means the only body selling courses to teens, their parents and schools, with the promise of helping these young people get ahead in business in their later lives.

But there are lots of sceptics who doubt the real-world value of an MBA — can an MBA-style taster be worth the money when the participants are so far from entering the world of work?

Prof Zemsky says the teaching has been adapted for the younger cohort, while tensions between business and society will also be discussed during the fortnight.

Getting introduced to subjects such as decision-making ought to benefit the teens as they make key choices in young adulthood, he adds. “We are not trying to make them little business people.”

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