“Do you consider yourself an ethical person? » It is with this indiscreet question posed to students enrolled in a master of business administration (MBA), that the “business and ethics” course begins, in the Singaporean premises of the European Institute of Business Administration (Insead). Some smile a little embarrassed, others scribble or type a few words on their laptops. ” Not especially “, finally let go of a Chinese participant. General laughter, tinged with a bit of admiration from the Europeans, who all declared themselves ethical – “at least in my person, not necessarily in my actions”even tries a Portuguese student.
In the small amphitheater, more than fifteen European and Asian nationalities are represented and everyone listens to each other without flinching. The opportunity for the French professor, a former climbing champion who passed through the mining industry, to recall that “Ethics is the realm of paradox”and to announce to these future business leaders an enticing program of reflection, based on the work of European philosophers and works of Asian thought, but above all on the study of concrete cases of moral conflict in the business world.
Insead, considered one of the best business schools according to the annual ranking of the FinancialTimes, was created in 1957 in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne). At the beginning, “the school wanted to be very international, not just French, insists Dean Ilian Mihov, professor of economics. The idea was to promote peace in Europe and to encourage trade across borders”. The school inaugurated its campus in Singapore in 2000, in the presence of former prime minister and founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. Since then, others have followed suit. Essec, in 2005 then Edhec, in 2010. Mathias Vicherat, the new director of Sciences Po, made there, at the beginning of July 2022, one of his first trips outside Europe. Other schools, like HEC, prefer to avoid the considerable cost of premises on an island with exorbitant rents, and forge partnerships with local universities, whose excellence is recognized on the world stage.
This recent wave of French schools is linked to a proactive policy by the Singapore government. Since the end of the 1990s, the authorities have approached dozens of major American and European schools as part of the “Global Schoolhouse” project, which aims to make the city-state a world capital of higher education of excellence, while investing heavily in its own universities. “We responded to an invitation from the Ministry of Commerce, which wanted to encourage projects in education”specifies Aarti Ramaswami, vice-dean in charge of Asia-Pacific at Essec.
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