KITE Invest recently met with the DEAN of the ESADE Business School, Mr. Alfons Sauquet and discussed the educational system at large in Spain – its strengths and weaknesses – the development of ESADE’s community and giving back motto that it aims to instil in its students. A focus on mobility and relationships with Latin America, the United Kingdom and globally resonated throughout the interview, emphasizing the importance given by ESADE towards international experiences.

KITE Invest: With the adoption of the Bologna system, and thanks to Spain’s 81 public, private and online universities, the country’s higher education system offers Spanish and international students a wide range of reputable university-level programmes leading to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. How would you characterise the evolution of the Spanish higher education system over the last few years?

ESADE: The Spanish education system is mainly a public system; it comprises a large number of public universities and a few private universities. As a result, most universities have to comply with state regulations, and the public universities therefore end up being less flexible.

Fortunately, in Spain, although we have adopted the Bologna system, we abide by the 4+1 system rather than the 3+2 system, which is the most extensive system in Europe. However, while more advanced, the 4+1 system creates an inconvenience for the public system.

Apart from this, the public system has been addressing one main issue – to be as open and comprehensive as possible – since many Spanish universities have not been able to differentiate themselves from one another. The focus has been on achieving the best figures and, therefore, the number of graduates in Spain is good in that regard. The problem with this approach is that the public system has been less selective than other systems in Europe. Another challenge for the Spanish system is mobility: students are encouraged to attend universities in their country or region.

KITE Invest: The issue of mobility seems to be problematic for the Spanish education system for students internally, within Spain. Does this inability to relocate affect Spanish students’ ability to study in other European countries via Erasmus or other programmes?

ESADE: This is the paradox. Spanish students are less mobile internally but more mobile to external locations. Spanish students have very clear incentives to move abroad – to gain international experience, to learn English and, in recent years, to become more competitive – because the Spanish economy has suffered over the last few years.

KITE Invest: Besides the fact that Spanish is one of the three most widely spoken languages, alongside English and Chinese, what are some reasons why foreign students should study in Spain?

ESADE: Spain is a very attractive location for foreign students. The weather, the location and the culture all play a large part and work in Spain’s favour. For universities in the Baltic countries, for instance, attracting students is a challenge simply for climate-related reasons.

The public system in Spain has become more flexible and more open, and it is becoming more competitive in developing strategies to attract international students. The idea of attracting talent – which has been an integral part of schools in Catalonia, especially in terms of recruiting students from Latin America – is becoming ingrained in more and more universities despite there being no incentives in terms of funding. The baseline is good, but something more should be done for those universities that can truly become global.

KITE Invest: ESADE is a private academic institution for higher education. It is based in Barcelona and Madrid, comprises ESADE Law School and ESADE Business School, and is currently a part of Ramon Llull University. Could you explain how the values of responsibility and professionalism are implemented and engrained in your institution, and how students take these values with them to the workplace environment?

ESADE: First of all, ESADE is a mission-driven institution. It was founded by a combination of businessmen and Jesuits. In the 1950s, when Spain’s economy was a complete mess, a group of businessmen got to thinking about the country’s economic future. They decided that if something was going to happen, there needed to be better talent. They approached the Jesuits, who said that rather than just creating a business school they wanted to have an impact on society. So having an impact on society has been in ESADE’s DNA from the very beginning.

A former director general of ESADE used to quote a Jesuit saying: “Train not the best graduates, but the best people for society.” That is the model that we have transformed into “Train not the best managers in the world, but the best managers for the world.” This is our challenge, to combine this message with being the one of the top business schools.

We strive for this in a number of ways. It is a matter of knowledge, courses, initiatives and developing activities in parallel to education. At ESADE, we combine our mission with knowledge (developing courses and developing research) and experiential learning that involves experiences abroad. Our undergraduate students go to a number of Latin American countries through our University Development Service, and we have had more than 300 students in last five years participate in projects at foundations, NGOs and all sorts of civil-society organisations.

Students at the bachelor’s and master’s levels tell us that they came to ESADE because it is different. It is knowledge-based, but it has a different approach to things. We expect our students to do something significant, whether that means going into investment banking or developing a social entrepreneurship project – it just has to make a difference. This is a “must,” and it is why we have been giving them all our support through the years at ESADE.

KITE Invest: ESADE has strong global ties, particularly with Latin America. Could you elaborate on these agreements and relationships?

ESADE: The idea with Latin America is that we partner with very good local institutions, mainly the top institutions in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. We have local partners that match our interests and our way of doing things. In Chile, for example, we partner with Adolfo Ibáñez, in Peru with the University of the Pacific, in Mexico with ITAM, in Colombia with Uniandes, and in Brazil with Fundação Getúlio Vargas–EBAPE. These are our academic partners, and we develop academic programmes with some of them. We are also beginning to form links with local multinationals that operate mostly in Latin America.

KITE Invest: How would you characterise the current academic cooperation between Spain and the United Kingdom?

ESADE: ESADE has many strong links with academic institutions in the UK. There are several partnerships between ESADE and schools in the UK, such as with the London School of Economics and the University of Warwick. As for business education, the richness of business schools in the UK is fantastic. The UK institutions are compatible overall but at the same time are able to maintain their uniqueness.

KITE Invest: If you could give one final message to UK students in an effort to bring them to ESADE, what would it be?

ESADE: ESADE is currently one of most international institutions at the master’s level in Spain. With between 40 and 50 different nationalities represented, its student body is incredibly diverse. ESADE overall has an impressive 101 nationalities.

In order to get a global framework into the classroom, we have to do more than just teach it. It involves bringing people together who are either from different parts of the world or have worked in various places together. This lends a global framework to the class and the programme. So we bring together people from different backgrounds and perspectives and find ways of learning to work and collaborate together.

The four words that we use when meeting with possible ESADE students are teamwork, flexibility, mobility and diversity.