The Future is International
"In this school year, the total number of incoming exchange students studying at the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana will exceed 300," says spokesperson Urška Vrščaj Vovk. "We also have 300 fulltime international students."
These figures illustrate the increasingly international flavour of Slovenia's education sector. At the Faculty of Economics, students from overseas can attend numerous classes in the English language - at the moment there are 17 complete programmes from undergraduate to doctoral level held in English and also over 90 independent subjects.
"When we decided to candidate for accreditations, programmes in English became our standard," explains Vrščaj Vovk. "We also have a number of guest lectures, international research programmes and compulsory study materials in the English language."
Around the world
Both foreign and Slovenian students also have a chance to complete part of their studies at one of the Faculty's international partner institutions. Meanwhile at IEDC-Bled School of Management foreign students are often the rule rather than exception.
"We are an international school in principle and our students are managers and potential managers, coming from all around the world," says Danica Purg, the dean and director of the school. "In longer educational programmes it is foreigners who are the majority, not Slovenians."
On average the school has around 2,500 to 3,000 managers from 40 to 50 countries a year. "Since our participants come from an international environment, we do not need classic exchange programmes," explains Purg. "However, we do have more and more postgraduate students who attend our lectures in addition to their customised study visits which usually last for one or two weeks. They come from Italy, Russia, the USA and South Africa."
IEDC-Bled and the Faculty of Economics clearly have a good system of catering for international students' needs. However this is not the case everywhere. Czech chemistry student Gabriela Kalčíková, who did an Erasmus study exchange in Ljubljana, says there were no lessons held in English.
"I was supposed to attend all lectures, but as I understood almost nothing it was difficult for me," she says. "For exams I got some books in English and could come for consultations with professors."
"This issue is hugely dependent on the faculty itself," Monika Rešetar, vice-president of Eramus Student Network Maribor, recently admitted. "Some have classes in English, some offer other solutions such as doing seminar work and projects instead of taking classes."
Despite the language obstacles she experienced, Kalčíková praises all other aspects of study in Slovenia: "Conditions for foreign students were really great. We were well taken care of."
Good chances for daring Slovenians
Slovenian students travelling abroad report similar language barriers - the institutions they travel to also reluctant to teach in English. There are also tales of exams taken abroad not being recognised upon returning to their home institutions. Nonetheless, by in 2013 it is predicted that three million of the world's students will have completed a foreign exchange. By 2020 the goal is for 20 percent or all students to have done an Erasmus programme or other international exchange.
Surveys suggest that most Slovenians won't be part of this group. Most prefer to study in their home country - only one percent gain international study experiences. Yet the conditions for those who decide to go are generally good. Students at the Faculty of Economics can choose from 184 foreign institutions, with studying abroad actively encouraged through web pages, workshops, presentations and fairs.
"We are aiming for ten percent of our students to go abroad for at least one semester," explains Vrščaj Vovk. "We try to make our students aware that an international study experience gives them an advantage at the international labour market as it enhances their chances to get a job at home and abroad."
Having experience from overseas is important, but above all it is the quality of the educational institution that matters. One of the ways in which this quality is judged is by international accreditations "which are relevant as a systematic way of checking the quality of schools and their programmes," explains Purg.
The Faculty of Economics can boast two of the most prestigious accreditations: the EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and the American AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).
"This places us among the approximately 70 business schools in the world which have both accreditations," says Vrščaj Vovk. "This is an enviable achievement also on an international scale. Our faculty is the first to have AACSB in Central and Eastern Europe."
Chances for teachers too
The accreditations strengthen the faculty's position in the international environment and bring important agreements with the best international schools, thus ensuring an abundance of overseas opportunities for its students... and teachers.
"Our professors can choose from more than 180 partner institutions and they keenly seize the opportunity," Vrščaj Vovk explains. "Also the number of visiting professors is increasing - monthly there are at least 25 of them who come to lecture and contribute to our faculty's quality."
IEDC Bled has Association of MBAs (AMBA) and IQA (International Quality Accreditation) accreditations. Purg says the latter is only given to schools which encourage innovation and ethical standards - only 17 institutions in the world are considered to have reached the required standards.
"Also the alternative business schools scale 'Beyond Grey Pinstripes' placed us among the 100 most innovative business schools in the world," Purg says. "This scale takes into account how well the school prepares its students for environmental, social and ethical challenges of the contemporary business world."
Accreditations may be impressive and raise the standards of the faculty but Purg argues they are not the be all and end all.
"Large schools create the standards themselves and so the objectivity of them can be questioned. Universal standards also do not consider the local context which varies greatly; moreover they threaten the innovation in study programmes. These issues are a big subject at international conferences."
She says what matters most is the international character of the professors and students: "Especially in a time of rapid changes in the business world, innovation is vital. However, the most important thing is that the managers who come from the school stand out."