06.05.2019 | Research

Behind “truly international”

Research: Prof. Dr. Grünewald takes a look at what characterises an international business school

Was steckt hinter "truly international"? Das erklärt Prof. Dr. Hazel Grünewald im Interview / What`s behind "truly international"? Prof. Dr. Hazel explains.
Was steckt hinter "truly international"? Das erklärt Prof. Dr. Hazel Grünewald im Interview / "What`s behind "truly international"? Prof. Dr. Grünewald explains.

Recently, Reutlingen University successfully completed the re-audit process of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) for internationalisation. We talked to Prof. Dr. Hazel Grünewald, Head of International Relations at ESB Business School and spokesperson of the research group “Internationalisation”. Prof. Dr. Grünewald has lately written two scientific papers that explore internationalised curricula and the management of international internships. Grünewald and her co-authors Prof. Baldur Veit and Joanne Corlett focused on the case of Reutlingen University, in particular ESB Business School. In an interview, Prof. Dr. Grünewald gives insights into her scientific findings and explains how ESB Business School strives to prepare students for a globalised work environment:

What do internationally operating companies expect from university graduates? More than knowledge in a given subject area, we are seeing an increased demand for problem-solving skills in a global context, good team and (cross-cultural) communication skills. A report published in 2018 by QS World University Rankings has pointed out that there is a gap between what students and employers rate as key competences. Students often focus on their GPA, whereas skills such as flexibility and adaptability, as well as resilience are weighted more highly by employers. According to Times Higher Education, the greatest predictor of employability among students is professional experience. Recent surveys among industry professionals corroborate such claims, indicating that international work experience is a more convincing element for recruiters than merely having studied abroad. 

How can we as a Business School optimally prepare students for an international work environment? From day one at ESB Business School, students learn to work in international teams. About 30% of our student body is international. Students are, therefore, exposed very early on to the challenges and opportunities of international group work. Excellent communication skills and foreign language proficiency are key to working successfully in an international business environment. At ESB, we have set ourselves the goal that our graduates are proficient in at least one foreign language before graduation. This language is not necessarily English, although many programmes, in fact, offer a minimum of 30% of lectures in English. Moreover, we expose students to a wide variety of international teaching methods including simulations, case studies and practical projects. Throughout their time with us, students have the opportunity to learn from international academics and practitioners, both at home and abroad. Furthermore, international practice orientation is core to all programmes at ESB: all study programmes require students to have experience studying or working abroad. All in all, our diverse international curricula help to narrow the skills gap highlighted by QS. Not only do our students develop flexibility, adaptability and resilience, they are often expected to reflect on their behaviour and development. As part of a university of applied sciences, we are tasked with producing industry-ready graduates. The demand for experiential learning and work experience cannot be met on the campus alone which is why international internships play an important role in our curricula. Recruiters typically consider candidates with cross-border work experience to be more self-directed, flexible and resilient to deal with the challenges of a VUCA world than peers that lack this experience. 

How do we at ESB measure the success of our internationalisation strategy and activities? Applicants consistently answer that a major reason for applying to ESB Business School is its international profile. Furthermore, the high global employability of our students attest to our very effective internationalisation strategy. Of the current 7600 alumni registered in LinkedIn, 25 % live and work outside of Germany and many of those hold executive positions. We also regularly ask for feedback from our stakeholders – global industry representatives, students and alumni. Of course, our excellent performance in rankings (such as CHE, U-Multirank and Trendence) and accreditations (FIBAA) are also external measurements for our success, since internationalisation is a factor that is evaluated. The university has been succesfully re-audited by the HRK (German Rectors’ Conference) in the area of internationalisation. In Germany, we are regularly called upon by academic bodies to advise on international matters in an expert role. Last but not least, I would like to mention sound internal quality assurance regarding our curricula helps ensure that we successfully implement our internationalisation strategy and continuously improve. 

What characterises a good international study curriculum? We have realised that there is no “one fit for all”. We try to retain the diversity of our programmes, which are developed to meet specific market needs. However, we have defined criteria to be fulfilled in order for study programmes to qualify as international, which most of our programmes are. Absolutely critical is that we do not pursue an internationalisation strategy “for the sake of it”. International measures should contribute to our mission and the central learning goals that we have defined at ESB. This means that if students learn a foreign language, for example, they should be learning technical vocabulary to help them better solve problems when they are in a foreign environment as well as considering intercultural issues that might occur when communicating with others in the target language. Foreign internships allow students to apply their foreign language and problem-solving skills in real business situations in an international context.

How can we as a business school support the learning success of international internships? Clearly, we try to ensure that students are sufficiently qualified from the outset to undertake the internship of their choice. Besides the skills and knowledge that they gain before embarking upon an international internship, students receive practical support aimed at setting them up for success. Guidance is offered with respect to applying for international positions interview training. Another preparatory measure undertaken in some programmes is that returning interns share their experiences with internship supervisors and students from following semesters. The practice has proven to be successful since internal and informal insights are shared which help students better prepare for what is to come. Students have to write an internship report, which they submit at the end of their term and sometimes have to defend in a colloquium. Some students choose to write their theses as part of an overseas internship. Particularly in the case of theses conducted in international companies, good communication between academic supervisors, industry mentors and students provides consistency and alignment in the process of evaluation. This also helps to limit potential problems that could occur through different expectations. Academic mentors, for example, typically stress the importance of good research and scholarly writing, which may go beyond the wish of industry mentors to see a practical report that documents the problem and its solution. There are clear processes and guidelines in place to ensure that the defined academic goals are achieved. 

Apart from the curriculum, what else characterises an international business school? An international community, whether we are talking about teaching and administrative staff or students. International students get involved in a wealth of extra-curricular activities ranging from sport, theatre, organising fairs and talks as well as getting involved in community projects. Worth mentioning, too, is the international flair on campus, as well as the close-knit and cooperative community that has been established. Administrative and teaching staff from programmes and working in central offices are encouraged to visit partner universities and learn from their best practices. They also regularly meet together in the semester to address different issues. This cross-functional, inter-organisational approach helps us to look at issues from different angles and offer creative and effective solutions.