At barely two years old, Skema may be the new business school on the block, but it makes up in confidence and ambition what it lacks in longevity.
Standing for School of Knowledge Economy and Management, with a pointed nod to the Greek skhēma – plan – the school was formed by a merger of two existing French institutions, ESC Lille and Ceram.
“They weren’t schools that had problems,” says Alice Guilhon, formerly Ceram dean and now at the helm of Skema. “They were each growing fast, and found themselves a common project to create a global school positioned around the economy of knowledge,” she says.
With campuses in Morocco, China, the US and France, Skema is certainly well on the way to becoming global. Guilhon says the school intends to develop its international presence further with a focus on emerging markets and nascent plans to open bases in Brazil and eastern Europe.
Students choose which campus to attend according to their interests and career goals, and can change location every six months while remaining under the Skema “umbrella”.
For Guilhon, a complete immersion in the country’s way of doing things is essential, and the aim is to go further than a simple academic exchange scheme might.
“We want to give students more than a professional experience. They also learn the cultural and sociological codes they need in order to do business in rapidly developing regions,” she says. “One example is the notion of ‘crisis’. In China, the word ‘crisis’ means opportunity, whereas in the US, it means ‘obstacle’.”
Some modules are very site-specific. Doing Business in Asia, for example, includes intensive mandarin lessons, internships with local companies, and units about decrypting “the grammar of management” in the region.
Despite the intention to expand Skema’s global outreach, Guilhon says the aim is not to compete with local schools, but rather to co-operate. So, the various campuses are open to students of that country and, conversely, Skema students can follow programmes designed with institutions that have local expertise – the US campus in North Carolina, for instance, was devised with North Carolina State University, UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University.
But organising a multisite, multinational institution with such high levels of mobility has complications. Like many business schools in Europe, obtaining visas for its participants – whether coming from abroad or based in France but visiting the various campuses – is becoming more difficult.
At the moment, 35 per cent of Skema students are international, but the school hopes to increase this to 60 per cent by 2015 – so the visa challenge is likely to be exacerbated.