A World Where Experience Is the Classroom

study tour in china As an educator, sometimes I find myself in despair at just how bland and same-same tertiary business education has become. ‘Death by powerpoint’ and ever increasing class sizes of undergraduates with no real world experience appear to be the only growth elements of this current teaching environment. Quality of education certainly isn’t.

But not all is lost. A number of adventurous scholars have decided to shed the classroom and take the students out into the field. Study tours, structured internships and the like are starting to come to the fore thus signalling perhaps that higher education may no longer be held to ransom by governing bodies and standardised practices. In an era where universities continually seek points of difference but increasingly look similar, experiential learning could provide a standout opportunity. That’s not to say that AACSB and Equis accreditations are not an important part of a university’s goal set but the more they chase them to get ahead of the pack, the more such institutions risk becoming the same shade of beige as the rest of the pack.

For many universities in general and business schools in particular, the relentless pressure of rising up through the competition as defined by the Financial Times Rankings is just that, relentless. What can one do to be different but still meet the demands of these accreditation organisations? One business school in the north of France, with a history steeped in experiential programs rooted in internships, feels it might have the answer: The Apprenticage.

“What is an apprenticage”, I hear you ask? Well, it’s simply a good old-fashioned apprenticeship, really. (let’s be honest – doesn’t everything sound better in French?).

This Top 10 Business School in France started out life as a small business training school amongst a myriad such schools, in the far north of France, in 1964. From humble beginnings it has leveraged its relationships with northern commercial powerhouses such as Decathlon and Auchan to become one of the top business schools, entering the top 10 in France several years ago. To cap things off, they now boast the largest educational program in Europe’s biggest industrial park – La Defense, in Paris.

Such progress comes through a balance of not only meeting the increasing needs of students and industry as well as the global requirements of accreditation but ultimately through seeking a certain point of difference from other educational offerings, while maintaining the global integrity of their programs. The apprenticage is one of those key points of difference for this Top 10 Business School in France.

Working with the French government (who in part fund the program) as well as the vast array of businesses they have developed partnerships with over the years, the school provides students with apprenticeships in real world environments. These students would normally come straight through from high school and at best have some experience through a series of internships and at worst, no real world commercial experience at all. Consequently, they potentially lack the necessary skill set to adjust to the day-to-day challenges that business throws up. This Top 10 Business School in France has developed a careful matching program that rewards the requirements of both student and business alike, matching companies to students thus allowing their students to work in a real world business environment some days a week, while attending classes the other days of the week. The students also work during their holidays.

The students are paid a modest apprenticeship fee for their effort – so they have a win – and the companies get a look at the students ‘up close and personal’ – so they have a win too. In a world where studying in the classroom doesn’t necessarily translate into a job – in the ‘ classroom of life’ such programs produce results that prove that this doesn’t have to be the case.

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From my own experience, it’s great to see a student from one of these programs in the front row of your class either nodding or shaking their heads in line with what you are discussing and being prepared to challenge you on your view.

Nothing beats context.

Hopefully more institutions like this school take up the challenge and move in this counterintuitive educational direction


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