Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere, says an old Chinese proverb. But as Frank Lombard sees it, it is also a great gem just up the road. Individuals on the lookout for successful careers might want to go back to school.
We all remember our graduation day with a mix of satisfaction for the achievement and nostal gia for the good old times. Most tended to see that day as the watershed between the classrooms and the world of adults. Nonetheless, this is less and less true. Like it or not, the times of immutable workplaces and standardised procedures are over. Salient knowledge and skills are no longer, or at least not only, something jealously kept within a company and transmitted to the younger generations from the inside. In the age of networks and mobility, the ever-faster evolution of markets, technologies and consumer habits require open-mindedness and constant update. This, coupled with a tougher competition for the most attractive positions, has prompted many professionals to return to school after years spent away from textbooks and teachers.
Universities, for their part, have steeled themselves to meet this thirst for skills and training: formation continue, or continuing education, has been the new frontier for many of them. Contradicting a traditional view that sees academic institutions as ivory towers too detached from the needs of the most dynamic sectors of the economy, in recent years they have created and expanded a portfolio of programmes specifically tailored to professionals. Most of them have been a success.
Ready for the new old generation
Swiss universities, thanks to the forward-looking support of the federal government, have been the frontrunners in Europe. The University of Lausanne established a continuing education centre as early as 1991 and now welcomes over 2,000 students every year for 73 different masters, certificates, diplomas and seminars, including 40 degree-granting programmes. A foundation, named Formation Continue UNIL-EPFL, was even created in 2009 to jointly manage the continuing education activities of the University of Lausanne and of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. In order to provide professionals with topquality products, these programmes overcome the rigidities of mono-disciplinary approaches and inaugurated an unusual collaboration between academic department and institutions. In Lausanne, the Faculty of Business & Economics | HEC Lausanne closely cooperates with the departments of biology and medicine, as well as – in the case of the Executive MBA in Management of Technology (MoT) – with the Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL).
The courses range from the traditional Executive MBA in Management and Corporate Finance to more innovative and specialised programmes in healthcare management, pharmaceutical economics and policy, management of medtech, biotech and pharma ventures, as well as the MoT programme mentioned above. A legal degree (LLM) in international and European economic and commercial law and an intensive course in international diplomacy training for the civil service are also offered. Moreover, the University can tap into its network of expertise in various fields to design and deliver on-demand courses tailored on the needs of the employees of a private or public-sector organisation.
These Executive MBAs are specifically designed for “ambitious managers who are looking to reassess their careers and radically enhance their skills and credentials,” says Lionel Stoudmann, Promotion and Communication Officer of the Executive MBA HEC Lausanne | UNIL, adding that “the primary objective is to bring participants to senior management level”.
The MBA in Management of Technology deserves a special mention: with its focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in high-tech or life sciences, and its cooperation with leading Chinese institutions, it is ideal for those who truly want to bring about change in the global business world. It is no surprise that these programmes are attracting future leaders from all organisations, sectors and countries. In 2010, over 20 nationalities were represented in the Executive MBA HEC Lausanne and participants held mid- to seniorlevel positions in large Swiss and foreign multinational corporations, SMEs, consulting firms as well as in the public sector and non-governmental organisations. Even their educational backgrounds were extremely diversified, ranging from psychology to mechanical engineering, and provided immense opportunities for enriching exchanges, out-of-the-box thinking and, most importantly, the expansion of professional networks outside of narrow sectorial and disciplinary barriers.
A similar international perspective is held by the international diplomacy course that provides government officials, diplomats, NGO employees and any professionals handling international negotiations or projects with “an advanced understanding of practices and procedures of international relations and new skills to manage them more effectively,” as one of its promoters puts it. Bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, international organisations, security systems and conflict management, the European Union systems and international trade will be among the topics covered.
Soft skills on concrete foundations
A specificity of these programmes is their twofold focus. On the one hand, they propose core disciplinary modules: solid fundamentals, rigorous methods and exposure to complex analyses are indispensable tools to be in the lead of successful organisations in all sectors. On the other, the several so-called Personal Development Modules aim at providing participants with public speaking skills, entrepreneurial and leadership attitudes, negotiation and decision-making techniques as well as the ability to market themselves. Lectures by practitioners, role-playing, group works and case studies make up a substantial part of the teaching, particularly in the LLM and the international diplomacy course. These competencies were once termed “soft skills” but such a name would not make justice to their role: on today’s job market and workplaces, their importance is growing rapidly and their acquisition is decisive to differentiate a good professional from an exceptional one. And the modules really help, one of the participants of the Executive MBA in Management of Technology enthusiastically commented: “They awaken and empower the entrepreneur that sleeps in you!”
What is most important, however, is that the enthusiasm of the participants is matched by that of the employers. Top executives greatly value continuing education: increasingly, they had to go back to school themselves and gain hardearned degrees to land their current job. Ernesto Bertarelli, former CEO of Serono, suggested that that, if needed, is proof of their quality. Speaking of one of the programmes – the Executive MBA in MoT, jointly offered by EPFL and by the University of Lausanne – he has been quoted saying that it “provides the kind of education required for winning in a highly competitive world”.
The LL.M. in International and European Economic and Commercial Law (Master of Advanced Studies) has been designed for commercial or economic lawyers who want to distinguish themselves and pursue a carrier in one of the Swiss-based international organisations focused on trade law and economic governance or in multinational enterprises, international law firms, diplomatic services, EU institutions or academia. The degree grants 60 ECTS credits, which results in one year of full time studies. However, it is possible to complete the programme on a part-time basis, which will allow students to be employed at the same time and avail themselves of the many great employment opportunities in the Lake Geneva region. Furthermore students may personalise their study plans and take courses “à la carte”. You will find more information about the LL.M. on www.unil.ch/llm
Article by Frank Lombard