The curriculum change is something you mentioned quite a bit when you first took over as dean. Can you share any more about what that process was like and any more detail on key improvements within the curriculum that you didn’t already mention?
Yeah, so, I think what I mentioned already are the most important changes, but I think the process was quite interesting because we did not want to change the curriculum just for the sake of changing it. We wanted to change it to make it relevant for the students and for the recruiters. So we created a committee of five faculty members and then benchmarked against other schools to see what other schools are doing and have been doing, which generated some interesting insights but also we realized, we are not very far from what other schools are doing in many ways.
Then we talked to students and asked what they expect to see at INSEAD. And there were demands for certain courses. At INSEAD, it is critical to do this every 10 or 15 years because INSEAD is different and our electives are a marketplace. At many other schools, the faculty decides these are the electives that we are going to run and people subscribe. Here, if an elective does not run well, we’ll kill it, and we have a very strict criteria for that. If the elective is successful, we launch a bunch of sections so more people can take it. So as we see the demand, we will change electives. But still, there were some, like digital marketing and media, all of these things we just introduced as a result of this.
Then we went and talked to alumni and asked what they thought was good and what they found useful over the years, and what they thought was not as good. We heard very clearly that they wished there was a bigger emphasis on leadership development, there was a bit more emphasis on decision making, on reflection, self-awareness, ethical dilemmas, and so on.
And then we went to recruiters and asked what they need from our students. I think today we are very fortunate that many recruiters are going after our students because of their global nature. So one of the things that they really valued a lot was the global mindset, the diversity of the students coming from all over the world, so they can go back to these countries. Many recruiters need people in Southeast Asia, in Africa, Latin America, and sometimes it’s difficult to convince students who have gone to a top U.S. or European school to go back to their countries. But our students, because of their mindsets, are willing to do that. Last year — the class that just graduated — are placed in 57 countries. And the other thing that recruiters said — and that’s why we introduced it: that they are quite happy with the development of the analytical skills. The program we have is rigorous and comparable to top schools. But they really wanted more emphasis on soft skills. So that’s why we have this leadership development program.
Speaking of recruiters, you all have students coming from all over the world, many of whom are trying to jump industries, functions, and/or countries and have no traditional internship like in a two-year program, yet you all still have impressive job placement stats. Is this because of the increased resources and communication with recruiters?
Yeah, we can do this because now we have focused on career development even before they come to INSEAD. It is a 10-month program, there are no internships, but at the same time, even before they come, we have online courses for building their CV and all kinds of videos on how to prepare for career development. And during the year, there are personal career advisers and group career advisers focused on industries. Everybody understands it’s a very short period of time and we really have to do things very quickly. We enlarged the number of advisers because we realized if we want to do it right, it’s not going to happen with the numbers we had before.
It is impressive how many people switch functions and industry and geography. But obviously the people we take in are very high-quality and the willingness they have to be global and move around is very valuable and valued by companies.
The other big news coming out of INSEAD recently is obviously the Financial Times ranking. How does getting that number one spot feel and how much do you value rankings?
I think rankings matter. Rankings are very good feedback for facts and what things are working well and not working well. And the community is really energized by this number-one spot. I think what we learned from the rankings is that because we are placing students in emerging markets, our salaries are growing faster. Or they are going into industries that have high salaries. But on the salary side, INSEAD has been improving.
The second positive thing that we learned, which was very good, is that our research ranking has increased significantly. To me, this is very important because the school shifted towards research in the 1990s. It was under Dean António Borges. And it was difficult to integrate it into cultures. INSEAD was a teaching place. We emphasized teaching quality, I would say more than most of the other schools. And here, it’s not that the dean of faculty says you have to be a good teacher, professors feel the pressure. You have to be good in the classroom. Our students are a little bit older, the average age is 29. They also put more pressure on the faculty to be good in the classroom. So integrating these two cultures was sometimes painful. But today we have the best teachers and many of them are also great researchers. We have created a culture where the research and teaching goes hand-in-hand.
The reason I think it is very important is because if you think about the disruptions and the biggest threat coming from online, it is famous professors from top schools delivering high-quality material that is basically distributed for free. And right now of course there are issues with MOOCs. But eventually things will improve. The only way we can stay relevant in an environment like this is if you have a school where professors are at the forefront of research in management sciences and so on. So when you go into the classroom, you are not reading the textbook, which you can get on a video or MOOC, but also you are engaging in a discussion where professors are bringing the latest insights from various empirical studies and theories. And that makes a big difference, and I have seen it in many classes at INSEAD. That students and executives realize they learn something they can’t get easily from the video or newspapers.
For example, I am a macroeconomist and I have had several talks in the past about the economic drought and inequality. And what I was bringing in the classroom were inequality studies that people have published in top academic journals. And sometimes the conclusions from these studies, with the data, was contrary to what you would see in newspapers. And then you realize that you are learning something you cannot learn otherwise. To me, this maintains the competitive edge to the school.
I think it is very easy to see where we are also weak, in terms of the rankings. We want to increase female participation at INSEAD in the number of MBAs. We have 30% women today, which is still big progress to 10 years ago. But, again, it’s not where we want to be. We have looked into this issue. We are trying to analyze why this is happening. And it is, to a large degree, our geographical distribution of applicants. From the U.S. students, we have 45% of women like most of the U.S. schools. From China, we have 60% women. But from Europe, we have 12% and that’s where we are putting emphasis, in trying to change this.
So, to me, this is what rankings give. You can try to understand where the investment has paid off — and where we are still weak and need to improve.