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Is This Berlin B-School A Scam? Some MBA Students Say Yes

Royal patrons of the Berlin School of Business and Innovation cutting a ceremonial ribbon to open the school in November 2018. Second from right is the chief patron of the school, His Royal Highness Prince Paul Philippe Hohenzollern of Romania. BSBI photo

The students say they’re getting a raw deal. The school says they should have checked their expectations. But one thing is clear: No one is happy these days at the Berlin School of Business and Innovation.

BSBI opened in spring 2018 and seemed, at first glance, like a normal institution. Its website, at least, carries no warning signs for the would-be student. Buoyed by novelty and a spike in international interest, the school ramped up its admissions for the fall intake, welcoming a broadly diverse pool of applicants who were attracted to BSBI’s flexibility and assured by its outreach — the school, students say, is excellent at communicating with applicants.

That, they add, is where the excellence ends at BSBI.

In exclusive interviews with Poets&Quants, students at BSBI say they have been consistently disappointed in the quality of both the instruction (“no better than what you can find online”) and career services (“practically nonexistent”) at the Berlin school, as well as its facilities, which at one point amounted to a shared floor in a single building and rooms without tables or chairs. They say attending BSBI has been a waste of time — “basically,” one student says, “the same as flushing your money down the toilet.”

“For many students, money is an obstacle, and a lot of students chose this option because it is affordable,” says the student, who like the others asked for anonymity because he feared reprisal from the school. “To that I would say, don’t come here. This school is not what we were expecting when we came here, nor is it what we think we deserved and what we paid for.”

ITALIAN ACCREDITATION & ROYAL ROMANIAN PATRONS

His Royal Highness Prince Paul Philippe Hohenzollern of Romania, BSBI’s chief patron. BSBI photo

BSBI offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration; tourism, hospitality, and events management; marketing; and finance, fashion retail, and luxury management. Its Global MBA is an 18-month program that costs €12,500 in tuition for international students and €6,500 for EU students (there is a planned price hike for February 2020 to €13,250 and €7,000, respectively). Compare that to the tuition price tag at Berlin’s premier MBA program, ESMT: €43,500. BSBI’s first MBA intake was about a dozen students, mostly hailing from Europe and Africa; the school welcomed its first full intake in October, reaching over 100 new students and expanding its global representation considerably; members of the new cohort hailed from India, Mexico, Pakistan, Italy, Greece, Jordan, China, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Nepal, Tajikistan, and France.

BSBI’s degrees are awarded by Universitá Telematica Internazionale, or UNINETTUNO, a no-state Italian university accredited by the Italian Minister of Education, University, and Research. UNINETTUNO specializes in blended and online international programs and “has a sound experience in working with partners across the world,” Maria Amata Garito, president and rector, told a German journalist this spring. “We are a highly innovative academic university that put quality as our best asset.” The school itself belongs to Global University Systems, an international network of higher-education institutions that delivers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs as well as professional training, English-language training, and corporate and executive education. GUS has offices all over the world, including in Germany. 

Though BSBI is not accredited by one of the “Big Three” of the AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS, it does have something most business schools don’t: royal patrons. The school enjoys the support of four main patrons, in fact, led by His Royal Highness Prince Paul Philippe Hohenzollern of Romania, who “provides encouragement and support to help Berlin School of Business and Innovation deliver its vision of higher education inspired by Leadership, Enterprise, and Success,” according to the school’s website. Prince Paul is perhaps best known outside Romania for his involvement in a large corruption case involving the Panama Papers, refineries, and an Israeli billionaire. BSBI’s other royal patrons are Paul’s wife, Her Royal Highness Princess Lia of Romania; Her Serene Highness Princess Madeleine of Bentheim and Steinfurt; and Her Royal Highness Princess Theophana of Saxony.

‘FOR 2 TO 3 WEEKS WE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE CHAIRS’

BSBI students. BSBI photo

By and large, BSBI’s disaffected students found out about the school online, including — in part — through a story on its launch in P&Q. “If you Google master’s programs in Germany, it’s usually one of the first ones that pop up,” one student tells P&Q. “So I was looking for a master’s program in Germany, not Berlin specifically, and I came across BSBI’s website, and there were a few things that I found appealing and that I found to be quite credible. For example, the photography looked professional, and there was a range of students from different nationalities. In the pictures, it looked like they had very good facilities, and it’s also one of the few English-taught programs in Berlin. You search both for English and business master’s programs Germany, BSBI is definitely going to come up.NO

“It was at the top of my list because number one they’re extremely flexible, they were very good at communicating with the students, they would answer a lot of questions, and this is all in the very initial stages. They promised certain things like internships, they promised German classes — basically, they promised you anything that would make it seem like an attractive course, one that will fill your needs. They said that they would help us find full-time jobs, they would help us find internships, paid internships, and part-time work. So because they filled a lot of the criteria that I was looking for, it became the top school that I was interested in.”

None of what was promised has panned out, the students say. There were lots of red flags from the start: Study materials were substandard, faculty were disinterested, attendance rules were relaxed or simply ignored, and, perhaps most alarmingly, BSBI’s “campus” was a shared floor on which all the tables, chairs, and other equipment belonged to another university. When that university moved out, it took its stuff, too. “They took things like the coffee machine, the glasses, tables, chairs, everything,” complains one student. “So maybe for two to three weeks, we didn’t even have chairs.”

No less crucial, enrolled students found the school lacking in educational basics. “Assignments have been given to students that are copied from the Internet or that have other schools’ logos on them,” one student says. “The materials are no better than what you can find online. Student services are available to students for one hour a day and by appointment only. In January, they sent a very aggressive, rude, and threatening email to students to make them pay the full fees — but since the fees have been paid they have completely ignored the students from that batch.  

STUDENTS PETITION THE SCHOOL, BUT GET LITTLE IN RESPONSE

There have been more problems. 

Since “day one,” students say, they have been asking BSBI’s career services office to provide assistance in finding an internship, something that was promised “and why many students decided to attend BSBI.” But in May the school told them that only Fashion and Luxury Management students would definitely receive an internship. 

Meanwhile, even as grading rubrics are vague, grading itself is very relaxed, with most assignments qualifying as rudimentary. Yet while students have received some grades they have gotten little to no feedback on their work. Students who began the BSBI Global MBA program in October 2018 still hadn’t received any input on their assignments in March 2019, more than four months later. In April they were informed that no more classes would be held until June; it wasn’t until late May that they received a timetable for the resumption of classes.

Fed up, 25 BSBI students signed onto a letter demanding changes (see the full letter on page 3). Among their requests: dramatic improvements in the quality of instruction and assignments, and an increase in career services availability. They also are seeking greater grading transparency and the establishment of a payment plan for financially struggling students.

“BSBI should acknowledge that we are master’s students, seeking higher education and valuable information to build our knowledge,” reads the letter. “As a result of (substandard classes and coursework), we feel as though we are not ready to start jobs, (and) we will be expected to have knowledge in these industries that we truly know little of.

“We kindly request you to acknowledge the disappointing experience at your institution, and to rectify these points by providing a better experience in the coming months.”

In May, having heard little from the school in response to their letter, students reached out to journalists at Poets&Quants and other outlets. That sparked meetings with school officials, including Gray and Maurits Van Rooijen, GUS chief academic officer. Some complaints were acknowledged, others dismissed; the students say they were promised action by the time classes resumed in June.

But in June, nothing happened. “As far as we are concerned,” one student says, “nothing has changed — nor has there been any improvement regarding our education.”