Leader: Everyone is talking the talk, 22 January 2009.
The increasing use of English in higher education across Europe could cost the UK a vital competitive advantage
...At stake is more than just a revenue stream, albeit a vital one. Many countries view overseas students not just as a source of income for their institutions but also as a way to boost intellectual capital because graduates may stay on and work. Talented academics may decide to leave the UK to take up the new opportunities to work and live in Europe.
So just how great could the continental challenge to the UK be? For sheer entrepreneurial audacity, consider the IE University in Madrid. It has used a business school as the foundation on which to build a university instead of the other way around, and it unashamedly targets top-end international students by offering an Anglo-Saxon system rather than Bologna-favoured qualifications. It aims to challenge not only the UK but also North America. Cannily, students will be encouraged to learn another tongue, Spanish, now the second most used language in the US and vying with English for dominance in the West.
Those who want to get ahead in a globalised world cannot afford to be tied to one tongue. In 2009, will Barack Obama's Education Secretary boast of being trilingual?
The language of competition, 22 January 2009.
Continental business schools are spearheading the attempt to access the lucrative market for higher education in English. Matthew Reisz reports.
None of these examples, of course, comes close to the scenario where a foreign university offers a range of English-language undergraduate courses similar to the spectrum available in a British university. But even here there are interesting straws in the wind.
It is not unusual for universities to create business schools. But the IE Business School in Madrid, founded in 1973, decided to reverse the trend and set up its own university. And since the licensing process in Spain can take up to 15 years, the easiest approach was to buy Universidad SEK, an existing higher education institution, and transform it into something new.
The IE University, which was officially launched under that name in August 2008, is housed in the 13th-century Convent of Santa Cruz la Real in Segovia. The business school has already proved highly successful, and one of the university's declared aims is to transfer its "educational model into the sphere of graduate and postgraduate education".
Every degree will include a module in management, and new bachelors courses cover everything from architecture, biology and communication to law, psychology and tourism management.
In the ambitious words of the rector, Santiago Iniguez de Onzono, speaking last April: "The university we are building will be one of Europe's most prestigious centres of learning within ten years, in line with the achievements of our business school."
Slightly more surprising, perhaps, de Onzono specifically flagged up the humanities, alongside internationalism and entrepreneurship, as crucial to the university.
Such subjects, he said, are "the binding agent that integrates other knowledge and the base for shaping individuals in the fullest sense of the word".
We can only wait and see what it means in practice to incorporate art, philosophy and music into IE's "innovative, market-oriented programmes", although an interesting sign is that one of its many British partnerships is with the Globe Theatre in London - using actors as part of the university's technique for teaching communications skills to managers.
IE University is very consciously targeting an elite international market: it has a staff-to-student ratio of one to eight and charges "Ivy League" prices to Spanish and foreign students alike, although many American-style scholarships are available.
There are already 95 nationalities on campus, roughly the same number as at INSEAD and the London Business School, and the declared aim is to achieve a proportion of 80 per cent international students.
IE is also committed to achieving a good gender balance through providing scholarships for women executives, researching initiatives such as mentoring programmes and a strong stress on online education, which is often far easier to integrate with childcare.
In addition, IE is developing a programme for women in their late thirties or early forties who are hoping to re-enter the workforce at a more senior level.
It is IE's international focus that is probably most relevant to British academics and universities.
This incorporates a number of different aspects. IE will be adopting a broadly "Anglo-Saxon" system of qualifications (referring to LLMs, for example, rather than masters in law), which the Bologna Process and other pressures are turning into the gold standard across the European higher education space and indeed the world.
Its programmes will incorporate language courses in Spanish (for many a good deal easier to pick up than Chinese or Arabic), even though a second language will not be officially required for graduation. And it will build on longstanding links with Latin America as well as giving students access to the network of 35,000 alumni from the business school.
English-language universities on European soil can and should pose a challenge to the intellectual dominance of the US. The overwhelming majority of business case studies are based on American corporations (and what we think we know about China is largely the result of American research).
To plug this gap and create a wider variety of perspectives is part of the task that British and continental universities should be competing to achieve. It is certainly an agenda the IE has taken on board.
As with the GGBS, the IE University aims to create many collaborative projects with British institutions and job opportunities for those who can commute between Britain and Madrid or nearby Segovia. The big question, however, is whether it will also snap up many of the best students British universities need to survive.
In the words of its rector, IE sets out to be "a private institution with a public mission: that of educating global citizens with an entrepreneurial mindset who are committed to society and have an excellent working knowledge of their fields".
It is a sign of these jumpy times that few would dare predict whether this is just high-flown marketing speak or a realistic ambition. But British universities would be well advised to take note.