A French connection

Two French business schools—CERAM, based in the Sophia Antipolis technology park, close to Nice, and ESC Lille—have announced a surprise merger. Once joined, the new school will have 5,600 students and 138 permanent professors—which it claims will make it the largest in France.

In many ways the two schools appear to be a natural fit, bringing together a full range of management programmes, including undergraduate, specialised Masters, MBA, PhD and executive education programmes. Furthermore, closer co-operation between business schools is being encouraged by the French government, which is keen that the country develops more large-scale business schools to compete internationally—currently, outside of the market leaders, INSEAD and HEC Paris, the sector is dominated by small and mid-sized players. Indeed, the new institution is looking to use its increased clout to expand aggressively abroad. It is planning to open an American campus in 2010, the location of which is still to be decided, but like CERAM, is likely to be in a technology park and not in one of the major cities. It then expects to roll out further international campuses in subsequent years.

However, despite the obvious advantages, perhaps the biggest obstacle to a successfully integrated school—which is still to be named—will be geography. The two schools are located at opposing tips of France: CERAM in the south-east; Lille in the north. It will continue to run a campus in each location. Even taking into account France’s fabulous transport network, merging two institutions over 1,000km apart will not be easy, something that Alice Guilhon, its dean, readily accepts. Nevertheless, Dr Guilhon has given herself the ambitious task of successfully integrating the two faculties within a year.

Other recent intra-national mergers of European schools, such as between Henley and the University of Reading in the UK, have not only had the benefit of economies of scale and complimentary areas of strength, but also of proximity. In another recent French example two nearby schools—ESC Rouen and Reims—launched a joint campus in Paris, which itself may evolve into a fully-fledged merger. Expect such unions to be a sign of things to come. François Bonvalet, Reims’ dean, says that in France mid-sized schools will soon find themselves caught between two poles: large international schools and small, often locally-focused niche players. The choice will be to merge and become big enough to compete, or to downsize. Few ambitious schools will seek the latter.

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2 Responses to “A French connection”

  1. Guillaume Daudin Says:

    Well, Lille is not exactly in the North West, but more in the North East. Still a long way from Nice.

  2. whichmba Says:

    Fair enough Guillaume – I’ll split the difference with you and change it to north

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