A culture of openness and transparency

The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) has recently announced that its Faculty of Business was the first in the Middle East and North Africa region to receive the Business School Impact Survey (BSIS) Label. In this exclusive interview, Professor Nehme Azoury, Dean of the School of Business, USEK tells us about the steps they had taken to win the award and provide an exceptional culture and experience for their students through various partnerships with top international institutions.

 

How have curriculums at schools of business evolved in Lebanon in recent years?

The strength of a university remains in its vocation to constantly serve students and enrich them with information and capabilities that will allow them to excel in the real world. Our curriculums are constantly revised to continue our main objective of providing quality education. Business schools are becoming more and more aware that the market is moving at a fast pace with perpetual changes that are shuffling the environment. The way we have dealt with this changing environment at USEK and the School of Business is by primarily adjusting curriculum content that is suitable for international environments and business contexts. International partnerships are a priority and the exchange of professors whether for teaching or training purposes is a constant.

 

Exposure to and experience with international partners has led to the modification of several already existing programs with the aim in meeting the changing requirements of the educational system along with the local and global business markets. This is further proof that curriculums should be constantly evaluated and even re-designed by introducing entirely new curriculums.

 

Schools have realized that graduating students with a more well-rounded view of the world are those that succeed the most. For this purpose, universities have opted for a curriculum that covers not only specialized topics but also general knowledge and cultural studies. This was recently implemented at USEK whereby our students from any discipline must complete at least 30 credits of different fields.

 

Moreover, Schools have adapted their curriculums to integrate technology into many courses. A system of hybrid and fully online courses has become a key concentration since it improves the quality of learning for all students. Theory is no longer provided by the instructor as emphasis is put on practical studies and examples instead. The implementation of a fully functional e-learning platform, at USEK, allows for a smooth integration while teaching students to manage their time more wisely with a sense of responsibility and freedom.

 

What are the reforms needed in order to take education forward in this country?

Though Lebanese are known for their rigid educational system, universities in Lebanon are aware of the necessity to be open to the outside world. The assurance of certain educational standards must be an aspiration for all institutions; as a result, several reputable higher education institutions have gained international accreditations, which in turn obliges them to operate in accordance with these standards.

 

From a local perspective, it is impossible for Lebanese universities to maintain and secure this quality of education in the future if the Lebanese government itself does not intervene. Cautious licensing by the government is certainly required to preserve the existing standard. An adoption of a local improved accreditation system will pave the way towards better performance in seeking international standards.

 

What are some of the challenges that still stand in the way of both students and professors in business schools?

The current economic situation of Lebanon has become quite tedious for students and families to handle. As a result, students are finding it quite difficult to pay their tuition fees at quality universities. To assist students, Universities are now demanding further funding from entities that will invest in potential student scholarships or financial aid. You will also find that the number of students who have a job and study simultaneously have increased for this exact purpose at hand.

 

Besides the tough economic situation, it has always been a norm for families in Lebanon to send their children abroad to complete their studies, whether at a BA or MBA level. As this is quite discouraging for many Universities, a solution has been found. Partnerships with international institutions have allowed students to remain in Lebanon yet gain degrees from foreign universities.

 

What are the unique theories that USEK provides to its business students?

At USEK, we try to instill a culture among our students that emphasizes on the humanity of individuals entitled to freedom and self-realization. Individuals are also taught in this context to take into consideration the environmental and societal implications that one’s actions can have. Our CSR policy and Green Project of forming the University into a model of environmental responsibility in the Middle East, is a goal that will involve the entire campus community in the process of becoming a carbon neutral, resource efficient, zero emissions, internationally certified educational institution. In line with this, we focus on maintaining equality practices and a culture of learning that starts from the top of the pyramid and is transmitted to all bottom lines including students.

 

With all the happenings in the country, how do you contribute to keeping education at the vanguard of the public’s awareness?

Education is certainly the one asset that will always provide an edge to continue and move forward, locally or internationally, regardless of the circumstances. Despite the chaos and unfortunate occurrences taking place in Lebanon, we have created a strategy to make sure that education remains at the forefront of their priorities. A team of young professionals has been developed whereby they orient school students and provide them with information regarding university life in general and USEK. Not only do schools visit our campus but we also go to them! Once this happens, a relationship begins and be taken even further if they choose USEK as their second home. The talent that comes to us is fostered, and what is best is that we get the beautiful chance of encouraging the young generation to constantly seek for improvement through educating and culturing themselves throughout life.   

 

What did you do differently to become MENA’s first university to receive the Business School Impact Survey (BSIS) Label?

At USEK and more specifically at the school of business, we share a culture of openness and transparency; in order to advance and grow, we believe that constructive criticism is key for a sustainable growth. With this perspective in mind, and in line with the USEK mission of openness to the society, we decided to take on the challenge and apply for the BSIS label. The reason as to why we have achieved the BSIS is based on the fact that we, as a School, have been able to affect and impact the society around us in a positive way.

 

We, at the School, invest in the Lebanese talent to be active and productive members of the society whose contribution is crucial to the economic cycle of the country. We are as well involved in the society by supporting for instance the Lebanese Army and the Monks of the Lebanese Maronite Orders with training programs designed to meet their needs and increase their productivity.

 

What is the added value this recognition brings to USEK and Lebanon in particular?

The Business School Impact Survey (BSIS) scheme is designed to determine the extent of a school’s impact upon its local environment – the city or region in which it is located. The scheme was initially designed by FNEGE (the French National Foundation for Management Education) and is already well established in the French higher education arena.

 

This label recognizes the support of the school for the development of companies and organizations in the region, the growing research impact of the School, its significant financial contribution to the region as well as the global responsibility commitment.

 

Apart from what has already been stated, the BSIS is a key to be used for the possibility of gaining other international accreditations. Once the BSIS has been rewarded, certain recommendations are made that the School can take to its advantage.

 

Being recognized as such commits the school to further involvements in the Lebanese business and societal environments. The School is now the spokesperson of the BSIS Label in the region and will become a motivator for other schools to increase their impact in Lebanon.

 

How do you prepare and help students step into the business world?

The added value of the BSIS label is even more recognized when our students step into the corporate world. We believe that our image as a School and University is exposed through the quality of our students. When students start working with corporations, our role as educators is exposed. With the BSIS label, our level of education can only go up hill from here providing our students with an extra edge in the market.

 

In order to soothe a student’s transition from university into the real world, the School has secured cooperation’s and agreements with companies in various fields. These partnerships involve several endeavors such as job fairs, corporate presentations, case studies provided to students at a BA and MBA level and even internships and job opportunities.

 

How do you plan to strengthen your school of education in the next few years?

As a first stage of improvement, we are starting from within. This means our School is being completely revamped whereby our classrooms, auditoriums, dealing room, research center and administration are being entirely changed. The introduction of new technologies into our classrooms are being included such as the replacement of all boards with a whiteboard wall. The School also renovated its Dealing Room where the latest technology is being used to offer the best learning environment for our students as well as trainings for professionals.

 

Apart from the physical strengthening of our school, we are introducing more programs to match the market trends and needs. We have partnered with top international institutions to provide our students with international programs such as the Master in Management and International affairs, a dual degree program with HEC Montreal, and with Pantheon Assas, Paris 2 to provide yet another international Master in Human Resource Management. On a different level, we collaborated with The George Washington University to provide top caliber managers with Executive certificates in various topics to update and expand their business knowledge. Recently, we have launched a new MBA in Banking Operations and Management, which is designed by actual Bankers to fill the gap of expertise personnel in a certain area in the Bank.

 

What would be your educational message to students striving to prove themselves and succeed?

I would like to tell them to hold on to their own dreams. Never underestimate the power of dedicated and engaged youth to make a difference in this world. The words of Mahatma Gandhi echo in my head: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Remain true to yourself; find your passion and follow it. The road to success is not easy but with hard work and perseverance, you can make it. Choose to stand out in the crowd, because no matter how insignificant the difference you make might seem, it will definitely matter for the greater good.

 

*Interview conducted by Jenny Kassis, Executive Editor

 

About Nehme Azoury

Nehme Azoury is Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Business and Commercial Sciences at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK), where he teaches Strategic Management and Corporate Governance courses. He is Secretary General of the Arab Society of Faculties of Business Administration (affiliated to the Association of Arab Universities and founded by the Arab League).

He has been Associate and Visiting Professor at various foreign reputed universities. Prof Nehme is the author of several publications, the editor-in-chief of the Arab Economic & Business Journal and the regional editor of Euromed Journal of Management for the Middle East. He is also the Managing Partner at Widein, a consultancy firm based in Lebanon.

Prof Nehme holds of a PhD in Business Sciences from Université Paris XI and Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, (USEK).

 

 

 

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