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European Programs Grow, Thanks to Bologna

After the 1999 Bologna Accord encouraged integration of European education, schools have introduced new classes and programs to draw a more diverse clientele

European unity has grown far beyond a common market and currency. Thanks to a Europe-wide initiative known as the Bologna Accord, universities throughout the Old World have agreed to harmonize by 2010 their programs and standards to facilitate transferability of degrees and credits throughout the European Union.

One immediate result: Schools are tinkering with their undergraduate programs to make them appeal to a more international applicant pool, including introducing new programs taught in other languages. "The goal of Bologna is to let Europeans move more," says Carlo Gallucci, executive director of university programs at ESADE Business School in Barcelona.

A Steady Growth in Credit Transfers

Since it began in 1999, the Bologna Accord—named for the University of Bologna in Italy where the agreement was signed—has already led to a significant growth in credit transfers from one European country to another. The impact has been especially great on undergraduate business education, as students in search of a more global perspective have cast a wider net and signed on for programs in countries other than their own.

Schools have responded to the growing demand by beefing up their offerings. Madrid-based IE Business School, for instance, has rolled out a new undergraduate business program at its Segovia campus, taught in Spanish and English. And rival ESADE, which initiated its new undergraduate business program in the fall of 2008, accepted 280 students in it inaugural year—just one-quarter of the applicants. The new program, taught in English and Spanish, includes a compulsory period abroad and an internship.

So far, the economic downturn doesn't appear to be having a sharp impact on European undergraduate business education, either positive or negative. Owen Darbishire, director of the undergraduate business program at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, says applicants to the school are up 24% from last year and by two-thirds since 2005. He attributes the increase to the program's rising reputation, not to the economy. "It has been a steady and long rise rather than a sharp change," Darbishire says. Saïd has offered an undergraduate business program since 1994.

The increased movement of students within Europe thanks to Bologna also is attracting growing attention across the pond. Students in the U.S. now see participating in European undergraduate business programs as a way to sharpen their résumés to better compete in the global economy. "The interest in business education has moved beyond the spring break study tour," said Doug Viehland, executive director of the U.S.-based Association of Collegiate Business Schools & Programs.

Students also are looking well beyond traditional destinations such as Britain or France to undergraduate business programs in countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Vasilis Botopoulos, the director of the University of Indianapolis's satellite campus in Athens, says he has seen recent growth in both enrollment and endowment. That's a trend that looks likely continue no matter what happens this year or next to the global economy.

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