Tom Colbjorsen

It is perhaps surprising to think that Norway, with its population of just 5m, boasts one of Europe’s largest business schools. But such is the case, and Tom Colbjørnsen, president of BI Norwegian Business School, is on a mission to tell the world about it.

Now in his seventh year as dean of the private business school, the quietly spoken Prof Colbjørnsen has already taken the institution through more changes than most business schools see in decades, consolidating at home and focusing on overseas expansion.

“Our goal now is to be in the top league of European business schools,” he says.

Central to his strategy has been to reduce the number of BI campuses in Norway from 13 to just four, and to focus teaching on business, closing down programmes in journalism, social sciences and humanities. Even so, BI still employs 400 faculty, making it one of the biggest business schools in Europe.

The consolidation, which was four years in the implementation, was in response to increased competition from Norway’s state-run universities, but also an acknowledgement that the school needed to focus on Norway’s four key cities, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger. In the latter three cities BI teaches its undergraduate programmes and some executive degrees, with its Executive MBA – an MBA programme for working managers – and masters degrees taught in Oslo.

But even this is set to change. “We have sent people from Oslo to do the teaching locally,” says Prof Colbjørnsen. “Now we are using digital options for campuses outside Oslo.”

Part of the school’s internationalisation plan has involved teaching programmes in English – four out of five of its masters programmes are taught in English now. So too are some of the bachelor programmes as well as BI’s Executive MBA and its EMBA programme taught jointly with Fudan University in Shanghai.

Now the school plans to go one step further with its EMBA, says Prof Colbjørnsen. “We are going for the service provider model. We will only teach two out of the five components.” The other three components will be taught by Nanyang in Singapore, IE Business School in Spain and UC Berkeley in California, the strength of its partners an acknowledgement of the school’s academic credentials.

The school is also focusing on the executive short course market, building on the strength of the school in teaching some of Norway’s blue chip companies. In the FT 2013 rankings the school is ranked 69 and 70 respectively in open enrolment and customised programmes, some way behind its domestic rival NHH.

“We are not as good in the executive market as we want to be,” concedes the BI president.

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