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Europe faces tensions on many fronts, in the wake of the pandemic. But its business schools have the potential to play an important role in preparing for the future of the continent.
The political climate is fragile, with turmoil in the UK since its citizens voted for Brexit, and conflict within or between many EU member states. Russia’s war in Ukraine has led to a loss of life and destruction of infrastructure on a scale not seen in the region since the second world war.
The conflict has resulted in the displacement of people, creating millions of refugees; it has fuelled volatility in energy prices, and it has slowed economic growth. But it has also brought a new solidarity between countries and towards individuals fleeing violence and intimidation. That includes support from many of the continent’s universities for academics and students fleeing Ukraine and Russia.
The war has also stimulated fresh reflection by business and policymakers on the urgent need for new approaches to economic growth, including the energy transition away from fossil fuels and dependency on Russian gas and oil.
As we recount in this report, that is playing out in the classroom, with business schools offering a range of innovative specialist energy courses , qualifications and pedagogical approaches that build on European traditions while responding to emerging trends.
Even amid resistance or pushback on some US campuses under political pressure around sustainability, for example, there is a long-established European commitment to tackling environmental concerns.
Julian Birkinshaw, a professor at London Business School and co-author of a recent British Academy report, Teaching Purposeful Business in UK Business Schools, has called for a shift away from shareholder primacy in finance classes, a move towards problem-solving approaches around grand societal challenges, and more collaboration on sustainability.
That is one of many pressure points for reform — something highlighted in a review of a book in which business school deans reflect on their managerial responses to recent disruptions, including Covid-19.
Digital transformation is pivotal and widely embraced. The “metaverse” may have been conceived in California, but Europe’s business schools are embracing the technology, both in courses and as a teaching tool, as we describe.
Despite the potential for division and partisanship on social media, recently crystallised in Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan describes a new focus in technology around online community building on business apps.
Elsewhere in this issue, we examine the final frontier of the new economy: space itself, a specialist subject at several schools as it becomes a substantial source of growth in its own right and an influence on many terrestrial activities.
Closer to home, both Europe and North America are feeling a squeeze in applications from their domestic markets for masters programmes in business, as the labour market heats up and employers seek to retain staff tempted to leave to pursue studies or join the “great resignation”.
Nonetheless, Europe has an advantage in offering shorter and cheaper courses than the classic two-year in-person MBA pioneered in the US, which is coming under renewed pressure. Europe’s graduates also have an advantage in that typically they speak more languages and are more exposed to multiple cultures and countries than their US peers.
At a time when, after the upheaval of the pandemic, more employers are seeking to recruit specialists, regardless of where they chose to live and work, that could be a competitive advantage for Europeans. While it remains difficult for them to send students to China because of continued lockdown restrictions, Europe’s business schools — including those in the UK, in spite of Brexit — continue to attract international students from there and elsewhere.
As our annual composite ranking shows, France is still the European country that is home to the largest number of strongly performing business schools.
Our list of top institutions seeks to highlight schools around Europe that rank strongly across the breadth of their different courses. It is a useful high-level pointer to reputation, influence and impact, but it must be viewed within a wider context.
Those contemplating studying business should scrutinise rankings of the individual courses that interest them, as well as broader factors that cannot be reduced to metrics. There is no substitute for visits and discussions with the schools and their alumni.
As FT correspondent Javier Espinoza relates in his account of studying for an EMBA, the personal investment and sacrifice is at least as significant as the financial commitment, creating frustrations but also leaving a gap in his life once his course came to an end.
Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor