“We are very proud of what we are all building at BSBI,” says Alexandra Gray, who was hired as academic director in March. The school has had a few hiccups in its short life, she acknowledges, but those are being addressed and the students in its undergraduate and postgraduate programs are overwhelmingly happy.
Maria Amata Garito of UNINETTUNO, which confers degrees to BSBI grads, agrees. “On the basis of our rigorous criteria applied to our partners, BSBI has shown to date to deserve trust,” Garito told a German journalist in May. About the Berlin students’ letter listing their grievances, she says once UNINETTUNO learned of it, “we immediately began the necessary inquiries, also involving the students. We take into great consideration the satisfaction and above all the criticisms of our students.” She adds that BSBI, like every partner of UNINETTUNO, must undergo an annual “quality verification”; however, “I can affirm that we have not identified particular anomalies in the BSBI’s activities, that all students have been admitted following ordinary procedures and European standards, that a strong collaboration exists between the BSBI faculty and the (UNINETTUNO) Academic Committee” — and that she and her organization “have never directly received complaints by students.”
Gray, who did directly receive complaints by students, says most of the issues they raised in a meeting with her in May have now been addressed. “We now have a student council with student reps for each intake and each program,” she says. “We meet regularly. The students set the agenda of the meeting and take the minutes, they then inform us and we then act on what they think are their primary concerns.”
‘BSBI IS NOT A DEGREE MILL’
About the concerns laid out in the students’ letter, Gray continues: “These private suggestions from students to us in a letter are situated in a particular time and with a previous senior manager, who has now been removed from the staff.”
Moreover, “Timetables and scheduling of classes have been completed and have been released to students. This is in place.
“New teaching staff have been and are being engaged and new content is being updated on a constant basis, as is normal practice for any institution. Feedback from the latest student survey (April) is positive — in particular student services has been and always is rated very highly. Attendance requirement and module feedback forms from the students are given out for each module and are acted upon.
“BSBI is not a ‘degree mill,’ nor will it ever be one. Learning and passing have equal weighting. We want our students to succeed.”
The students also met with GUS’ Maurits van Rooijen in May. Van Rooijen says this meeting was “very good and positive, with a wide range of students,” telling P&Q that the feedback from their letter was “constructive” and that he offered school system support, “if and where useful, to help implement further improvements.” But overall, he adds, the meeting was full of “heartwarming enthusiasm of serious students who are really engaged with their new school.”
BSBI’s website is loaded with similar sentiments. Among the many student testimonials offered there is this one from Global MBA student Jatinder Singh Rapyal: “BSBI is a good school to pursue an MBA, with its polite and caring faculty members. Studying here is the best way to invest in your future. I particularly enjoy the research work and the seminars.”
‘PIONEERS’ WHO FEEL MORE LIKE ‘GUINEA PIGS’
BSBI students had a different takeaway from their meeting with van Rooijen. Foremost, they say, is that he and the school “have accepted their mistake. He acknowledged that the administration and management were not aware of the undertaking when they started to admit students and were overwhelmed with how much work it was. He is aware that they have wasted our time, but they not willing to compensate for this loss to students.”
Instead, they say, he labeled them “pioneers,” saying they are the first batch and future batches “will have better experiences. He said our batch are the ‘guinea pigs’!”
Naturally, this — along with van Rooijen’s other assurances — did not assuage students’ concerns. “Many students in the meeting said that they were not told that it was a new university and that when asked, student advisers even made up lies saying they had a huge campus,” one student says. “If we were supposed to be the trial students, why were we charged fees for an experimental project? Moreover, when we joined we were informed that we will be ‘professionally trained by experts’ — which is not true!”
This is a particularly sore point. The students say the school is struggling to hire qualified professors. It often employs “freelance” educators who are shuffled around between courses and who have little attachment to the school — besides as a vehicle to get paid. One student asks: “When the college is aware that their body isn’t capable of even hiring professors, why were we promised ‘quality education’?”
Across town, at a school that knows a thing or two about quality education, word of the student protests at BSBI had not filtered through. In fact, says Nick Barniviille, associate dean at ESMT Berlin, BSBI’s existence had not even been noticed.
“Somewhat embarrassingly, I must admit that I have never heard of the BSBI, even though it’s in Berlin,” Barniville tells P&Q. “It has never surfaced in any competitive analysis I have seen from our team, and somehow P&Q’s original article passed me by last year. However, as a general comment, while I have great pity for students who are caught up in schools which do not deliver according to expectations, I would say ‘caveat emptor.’ While it’s not fashionable to say good things about accreditations and rankings, sometimes they do help provide some objective quality indicators.”
Adds Molly Ihlbrock, head of corporate communications and marketing at ESMT: “I first became aware of the school through P&Q’s article. Some of my marketing colleagues had heard of it, but they did not put it on the same level as other international business schools in Germany, as it is for-profit and not accredited (by one of the Big Three).”
‘WE’RE ALL PRETTY TRAUMATIZED BY THIS EXPERIENCE’
The Berlin School of Business and Innovation helps its overwhelmingly international student body apply for and secure visas to study in Germany. Because of this, students who have complained about the school fear reprisal in the form of efforts to have their visas canceled. This threat has been made in more than a veiled way, one student says. “Some students haven’t paid complete tuition fees due to the absurd and inappropriate attitude of college,” she says. “College management is demanding tuition fees from them with the warning/blackmail of being expelled. In this case, when the college hasn’t promptly delivered the standard quality of education, why are students made to undergo the trauma and warning of being expelled? Does the college deserve to even ask the students for the remaining fees?”
So will BSBI’s disaffected students look elsewhere? Do they consider BSBI such a waste of time that they will apply to other programs, seeking to start over?
“At this point, yes,” one student says. “I think many of the students are trying to make that transition to hopefully finding a full-time job, and then maybe possibly doing a master’s further down the line. To be honest, we’re all pretty traumatized about this experience, and it’s just pretty awful.” She points to the school’s practice of using freelance lecturers, saying it’s representative of the school’s overall approach: “Most of them don’t have any specific expertise, they’re kind of just shuffled around, and they have no dedication toward the subject. So they really don’t care whether you pass or fail, whether you show up or not. They don’t care about education, they just care about the money at the end of the day — which is similar to the way the school is run.”
See the students’ full letter to BSBI administrators on page 3.