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Frank Bostyn’s lips are sealed. As the dean of the business school created through the merger of the two French Grandes Ecoles in Rouen and Reims, he is adamant that until the school’s new title is officially announced at the beginning of September, he will not breathe a word.
However, not having a name – or at least not one that has been made public – has not dented Prof Bostyn’s enthusiasm for moving ahead with the merger, which became official in April. “We have been moving very fast. My ambition was to make clear to everyone their position in the new structure before they went on [summer] holiday. I just about managed that,” he says. “The tough decisions have to be made upfront,” he adds, or mergers fail.
One of the obvious reasons for Prof Bostyn’s appointment as the dean of the merged business school is that he has done this before. A trilingual Belgian, who has spent his career moving between business, policy and academia, he developed the innovation policy for Flanders as well as overseeing the merger of three universities in Antwerp.
All of which means he is aware of many of the pitfalls of academic mergers. “What I see as the main risk is that it is time-consuming and energy-consuming and you have to work on cultural integration. The risk is that the responsiveness to the external environment falls down.”
So has the merger between the two French schools been easier than the Antwerp merger? “There is less of a cultural difference,” he says, but points out that there is a substantial geographical distance between the two schools. So far, he believes, the merger has gone “very smoothly”.
With the French merger, however, there is an added layer of complexity, he says. As France’s chambers of commerce are consolidated at a regional level, the merger is about more than just the business schools – it is about the two chambers of commerce, the parents to the business schools, as well. “The change is very important. It might seem just symbolic but the dynamics that result are very important,” he points out.
France’s economic conditions that have resulted in the mergers of France’s chambers of commerce are also responsible in part for the mergers of business schools. But four further reasons have contributed to France’s merger frenzy, believes Prof Bostyn.
First is globalisation, he says. “There is a recognition that in an ever more global world, business schools need visibility beyond the national. They need a certain size.” That in turn relates to academic recruiting – the merged school already has 200 academics. “We’re all competing in an international environment and we need to recruit faculty. [To attract new faculty] you must have a convincing story – a clear strategy.”
Efficiency is a third issue. “The minimum efficient size has increased for services [such as IT and back office],” he says. “The resources released by the synergy will be invested in development.”
But perhaps most important is the management of financial risk. “Business schools in France get no public funding and fundraising is not tremendous. They are overly exposed to tuition fees,” he explains. “Mergers increase the ability to diversify and reduce risk a bit.”
Of the two schools in Rouen and Reims, perhaps the most talked about specialism was Reims Management School’s teaching on the champagne industry. But Prof Bostyn says the new school will take a different approach that will unite both teaching cultures. “We were looking for a relevant topic and we decided on personal development and organisational development…A lot of programmes have had problems with overstressing the technical.
“We must be excellent partners to business, educating managers of the future,” he continues. “We really want to position ourselves in that space so that our students are appreciated by companies because they are capable of operating in a business context.”