The Slovenia Times

International cooperation indispensable in higher education

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Metka Tekavčič, dean of the School of Economics and Business at the University of Ljubljana, is leaving her post in September after ten years. During her tenure the school has become renowned internationally based on work done by previous generations. She told The Slovenia Times that international connections and cooperation with business and society will be even more important for higher education in the future.

The School of Economics and Business is the first and only institution of higher education in Slovenia and the region to have three international accreditations: EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA. Last year, the Financial Times ranked it among the 95 best business schools in Europe for the fifth year in a row.

According to Tekavčič, the late professor Tea Petrin spearheaded efforts to make the school internationally renowned with the support of the dean at the time, Ferdinand Trošt, followed by deans Maks Tajnikar and Dušan Mramor. "The result we can be proud of today is the result of long years of hard work by the whole school," she stressed.

For a long time Ljubljana's school had the lowest budget among the schools with such accreditations. "Many people still wonder how we managed to achieve such results with so little money," she says.

A good international presence with widely recognised study programmes offers many opportunities for both students and professors. "In addition to the many opportunities for international education, students can benefit from a wide range of connections with industry, while foreign lecturers are impressed by the high standards of teaching guaranteed by the triple accreditation." Such an environment offers many possibilities also for increasing competences of the professional staff which contributes to the success of the school.

The students come from many countries, most notably from the Balkans, and the school has signed cooperation agreements with many universities not only in the region but in all continents. "The only question we should ask is how well an educational institution is connected in the wider environment. I simply cannot imagine how we could function without that," she says.

Cooperation with business is also important in terms of ensuring sufficient financial resources to deliver the highest quality educational programmes, she says. The school is achieving this despite the lack of institutional support and the often incomprehensible administrative obstacles.

"Let me just highlight the concerns about whether it is acceptable to teach in English, which we are witnessing. Can you imagine international cooperation if, for example, all guest lecturers were required to be delivered in Slovenian at a high level? We do encourage professors as well as researchers and students to learn basic Slovene, but instruction for foreign students must be in English," she said.

They also have great difficulty in opening departments abroad. "This would be very important for knowledge transfer, but we are at the tail end of the European Union in this respect. When I talk about this with my foreign colleagues, almost no one can understand how this is possible," she says.

The school is also keeping up with the latest technological developments and Tekavčič sees artificial intelligence as a turning point for the education system - one which should be harnessed rather than feared.

"We will have to focus even more on how to develop critical thinking in students, and the direct relationship between teacher and student will be even more important. We need to use artificial intelligence to improve our lives while keeping in mind that we need to preserve humanity - and this means more personal contact, connections, and conversations."

Sustainability is already much more firmly embedded in the school's everyday life. Tekavčič believes that it needs to be integrated into all aspects of life and work, and the Ljubljana School of Economics and Business is fully committed to this.

"We must not forget to provide the right conditions for business, because without creating added value we will not be able to finance a large-scale green transition," she says. Students are therefore encouraged to seek opportunities for new sustainable approaches for the benefit of the whole community.

Tekavčič admits that hiring good staff would be easier if the state provided a more incentive-based pay system. "It is difficult to keep the best students and young researchers in academia, because the corporate sector naturally offers much higher salaries than the public sector," she points out.

This is also a problem for many private schools, which receive state funding despite often modest numbers of students. "I must stress, however, that with each passing year, there is a greater awareness among both employers and students that it is not only the level of education that matters, but also where you get it."

She is also critical about claims that the education system produces too many social science graduates and not enough STEM graduates. The shortage of the latter is undoubtedly a fact, but the rapid development of society also requires many social science professions.

"At this very time, we can already say that artificial intelligence will require more and more of the professions needed to maintain the social cohesion of society. So how can it be argued that there are too many professions in the fields of social sciences?"

She advises young people who are still deciding on a course of study to choose something they enjoy. She would like to see better support available to help secondary school students explore their potential. "Above all, young people should discover the world with open eyes, a critical mindset and an openness to new challenges," she added. This is how the will be empowered to participate in building sustainable and healthy organizations of the future.


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