The prime function of schools is to teach on campuses in the closest proximity to students

Benoît Arnaud, Programmes Director replies to questions from Olivier Rollot, chief editor of l’Essentiel du Sup. Olivier Rollot: It looks like we’re on the right track to get over the pandemic. How…

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7 Jul 2021

Benoît Arnaud, Programmes Director replies to questions from Olivier Rollot, chief editor of l’Essentiel du Sup.

Olivier Rollot: It looks like we’re on the right track to get over the pandemic. How would you sum up this period for EDHEC?

Benoit Arnaud: The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated all transition processes, digital, logistical and also human. We’ve also clearly understood that the prime function of schools is to teach on campus in the closest proximity to students. We saw that when they were on exchanges abroad, students managed to display both agility and imagination in order, for example, to find a solution to make their way to their host country. These abilities are highly sought-after by companies which see them as reflecting a generation capable of showing resilience in what has been a particularly difficult period for them. Moreover, if we look at their entry into the job market, we can see they’re securing employment pretty much everywhere, apart from in the hardest-hit sectors.

We also need to mention our professors who had to rethink all their classes for the switch to online and I commend them for their work in this area. Going forward, distance learning will remain a resource, in view of its flexibility for students and the highly different learning experience it offers students compared to that lived by young people on campus. It’s precisely what students are asking of us, and surveys have shown they’ve been as satisfied this year as they were in 2019.

This year was ultimately a big booster for distance teaching: globally, a total of 16 billion euros have been invested in EdTechs. We’re now expecting plenty of new things to come out of it, particularly in terms of adapting classes to the needs of individual students. We’re also likely to see more online immersions and we can even envisage business trips being done online to improve our carbon footprint.

Will the start of the 2021 academic go ahead 100% in person?

It’s what we’re planning, maybe with limits on capacity to be respected depending on any upticks in the epidemic, and with the flexibility offered by distance methods that were initiated before the pandemic.

This de-carbonised world you mention, will it create new types of jobs?

Environmental issues and the growth of movements in favour of de-carbonising the economy are spawning new practices. At EDHEC, we’re acting notably through the angle of our programmes in finance, by placing our teaching and research at the service of a more responsible economy. The work being done on sustainable finance by our researchers encourages investors to consider the carbon footprint of their investments. One of our emblematic initiatives in this area is the creation of an MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Finance in partnership with Mines ParisTech, which will receive its first cohort in September as part of a double degree. In addition, all our programmes include classes to familiarise students with these issues, ranging from induction days organised around the Fresque du Climat event for students joining the School and extending to our Masters and Executive Education programmes.

Our students are increasingly taking part in “impact projects”, whether focused on the climate emergency, social insertion or agrifood transition. Today’s generation is a highly mature one, closely in tune with these issues. In addition, there are many examples of start-ups founded by EDHEC students that are aligned with this movement towards a sustainable economy, such as Yuka or more recently 900.care. Making business serve the common good is essential in their eyes. They want to join companies that respect these objectives and give their managers autonomy to express themselves and act, so as to change the world.   

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the hybridisation of knowledge. EDHEC, for example, has signed an agreement with Sciences Po Lille. Is this hybridisation a priority for EDHEC?

It’s a key component of our strategic plan. It involves, for example, recruiting students not originating from business schools or with management training backgrounds. Each year, we receive 1,600 applications from students who’ve graduated in different disciplines (engineering, literary degrees, management, etc.). This hybridisation of knowledge is also reflected in double degrees, like that which you mentioned with Sciences Po Lille, but also in joint programmes run internationally with prestigious universities like SKK in Seoul for data or Berkeley Haas in San Francisco for humanities.

We offer our students an extensive portfolio of certificates and double degrees in management-related disciplines - digital, political science, humanities, etc. – which match the aspirations of young generations and are in big demand from companies. Lastly, law is a longstanding focus for EDHEC: our agreement with the Catholic University of Lille enables our students to acquire dual skills in law and management, ultimately with the possibility of taking the bar exam.

In addition to the response to the environmental challenge, hybridisation of knowlege is one of our two main thrusts, without forgetting the development of entrepreneurship. EDHEC Entrepreneurs supports over 600 business start-up projects each year, with close to 100 start-ups now incubated at Station F in Paris, where they find a highly stimulating environment in which to develop. We also have a partnership with the Berkeley incubator that enables start-up creators to set up in Silicon Valley. All of this is underpinned by the transmission of knowledge between the youngest entrepreneurs and more experienced profiles who guide them and proffer valuable advice. Our 45,000 alumni represent a formidable force in this respect.

Let’s talk about current matters. How are your orals going to proceed? As they usually do?

We took the decision this year not to organise group orals, in order to avoid situations where certain candidates were not able to take part, either because they were ill or contact cases. We didn’t want to do this, given that this original format allows us to get to know each candidate and their profile better and to see how they function in a group.

Nonetheless, we’ll still be holding more classical orals: they’ll provide the occasion for personalities to reveal themselves and to demonstrate a richness of life that might not necessarily be apparent in writing, because the candidates have worked in an NGO or lived abroad, for example.

The question of competitive entrance exams ties in with that of recruitment and hence social diversity, an aspect deemed to be inadequate. What needs to be done to remedy it?

This is a major subject that expresses itself well before entry to a Grande Ecole or a university. It’s a real problem of society! Right from early teenage years, some young people self-censor and wrongly rule out all possibility of them entering higher education. To overcome the financial obstacles, we set up a generous and proactive solidarity policy: 25% of our students benefit from study bursaries that represent payments of 10 million euros each year. To promote equal opportunities, we’re also considering offering a “double bar” system of admissibility, in which well-ranked bursary students could potentially obtain a second chance to attend orals.

We’re also in favour of income-related loans, that is, loans that students repay according to their income once they enter the job market.

Does EDHEC plan to tailor the amount of tuition fees to the level of parents’ income as two other schools are doing this year?

This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, by granting bursaries to less financially-favoured students and particular to those on rungs 6 and 7. We also have an emergency fund backed with several hundred thousand euros to help students in temporary difficulty. This year, for example, some of them were unable to find student jobs and we were able to use this solidarity mechanism to support them financially.

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