Spain – with its sun, sand, and sangria – is a hot market for business schools. There’s more than 10 business schools in Barcelona alone and more than 80 in the country as a whole.
Some you’ve likely heard of – IESE, ESADE, and IE Business Schools are perennial ranking favorites, ranking No. 1, 4, and 15 in our list of the best international MBA programs of 2022-2023.
Others are a bit more scrappy, staking their claims on the technologies that will shape the future. Think blockchain, AI, and neuroscience.
GBSB Global Business School in Barcelona is one such school. It was founded in 2012 by a group of businessmen and educators who wanted to build a globally-focused business school centered on emerging technologies and innovative teaching models. While schools with long histories and big brands are steeped in tradition, GBSB Global is adaptive by nature.
“Yes, we have the traditional business programs, but our vision is that we are constantly changing. We are constantly moving, and that is the benefit we offer students,” says Vincent Ligorio, dean of GBSB Global Business School.
P&Q INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT LIGORIO
GBSB Global has campuses in Barcelona and Madrid, as well as a new campus on the island of Malta that opened in 2021.
It offers a full portfolio of undergraduate, graduate, and executive programs all built around an integrated digital ecosystem that connects students and their educational journeys in and out of the classroom. In 2017, it became the first business school in Spain to become a Microsoft Showcase School, used as a model for schools that are engaged in the digital transformation in terms of both teaching and learning.
It also refers to its online offerings as its fourth campus, and most of the degree programs it offers can be taken either on campus or fully online.
Its three-year Bachelor of Business Administration and Digital Innovation has a modular design which allows students to focus their education while still getting the general business degree. The degree offers concentrations ranging from digital entrepreneurship to finance and fintech to sports and e-sports management.
It offers a 10-month MBA as well as 12 different specialized master’s ranging from Fashion & Luxury to Entrepreneurship to Business Innovation. It also offers a Masters in Management and Master of Science in Management with various fields of concentration.
Ligorio’s own bio is itself atypical for a business school dean. He was raised in Italy, and studied political science and international relations. He most recently worked in Russia as vice rector at Moscow’s University of Psychoanalysis, the first and only foreigner to reach this position. He remains a tenured professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Business Administration (RANEPA). He is an expert on politics, economics, and neuropolitics.
“After 13 years on the other side of the Iron Curtain, I had this opportunity to join GBSB Global and I was very happy,” he tells Poets&Quants.
He joined GBSB as dean in 2022. In this interview, Ligorio reflects on his goals for the school during his first tenure. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us more about GBSB Global. What is the school known for?
The school was established about a decade ago. I like to call it a multi dimensional ecosystem because we are a multi campus university. We have three physical campuses in Europe: two in Spain — Madrid and Barcelona — one in Malta, and one campus that is online.
We are known to be the first university to be granted with the Microsoft Showcase accreditation. It is more than a medal for us because it means that we are very committed to the future of education. Despite having three physical campuses, we still involve our students to be quite in touch with the digitization process. Not only in the infrastructure that we have in our buildings, but through the daily engagement that they have.
We already had this innovative triangle: Our founders were always focused on innovating, and we are one of the few schools that didn’t face so many challenges during COVID. We had all the tools ready. We are proud of this.
We have several tools in our ecosystem that work together to create our sharing cooperative digital platform for students. All are integrated together. The Innovation Pathway that we have unifies all the tools that we have, both external to the campuses as well as within the campus. A student can move from on campus to online in specific programs whenever he wants with some administrative limits. Of course, limits because this can cause it’s not like every day. For some courses we provide them a digital experiences as well.
What percentage of your students are online versus on campus?
I think we have about 30% of students online currently. The numbers are constantly changing, because we have three intakes per year as well as custom graduation rates.
What kind of students are you targeting with the online programs?
You know that education is changing, and it is now more like lifelong learners. We don’t define students anymore, but we define learners because in terms of age, nationalities, interest and background, we cannot say that we have one range of learners. The variety is very, very high.
So for example, in our online space, we have a huge variety of students. From students that decide that they want to enjoy their life while still learning to professionals who want to qualify or are interested in something more for their careers.
What are your big goals for your tenure as dean? What would you like GBSB Global Business School to be known for?
Since I came, and with the support and input of our leadership, we are trying to change and update our curriculum. One example is our MBA; We are keeping the historical framework of a traditional MBA with a big touch of innovation. So focusing on artificial intelligence, neuroscience, all these elements that we see are the future. Because an MBA is for professionals, for people that already know how the business is working and growing, we have to provide them with the tools to make change.
Another thing that I see for our organization in the next few years — and I would not say 10 years because, with the dramatical change that we have in our society, 10 years is not a long run — is to open up to new frontiers. As a professor of international relations, I have seen how we have followed a Western-centric education model that is not as appealing to some other continents anymore. We are moving from an extreme globalized world to a regionally de-globalized world from my perspective, and we have to respond to this if we want to keep growing. For example, one of our courses is specifically exploring what China will be in the future.
We have a lot of students coming from India, several countries of Africa, and other countries that are not historically European centers, but still we have to give an additional signal to our audience and to the market.
Tell us about GBSB Global’s G-Accelerator which opened in 2018.
The G-Accelerator is what we know as a business incubator, but it’s something more. We focus on innovation calls, innovation startups, and so on, as opposed to random business ideas. Our vision, our strategy, and our philosophy is to focus on innovation.
Opening, say, a traditional kebab kiosk, students can learn just with the tools that we give during the lecture. The support that they get from the accelerator is related to innovative startups. But, a kebab kiosk can be innovative in the way of selling, delivering, approaching the customer, etc., and G-accelerator is open to that kind of proposal.
Something that we are proud of is we work in cooperation with the European Commission for calls for innovative education and business ideas.
Shortly, the G-Accelerator team will announce the new Impact Call for 2023 which focuses on business ideas that are sustainable, socially responsible, and make a positive impact on society. It is a very good experience for participants because not only do you get mentorship, but you get life experience during those 20 weeks of the program. And while the Impact competition ultimately gives prizes for first, second, and third place, we don’t close the door to the other proposals. We provide, through the process, the tools to launch their ideas independently, which I think is even better. Because, you can’t always wait for an angel investor or somebody that will finance the venture. We also have to teach them how to find resources themselves.
How is sustainability and ESG incorporated into the GBSB Global Business School curriculum?
Each program — from e-gaming to fashion and design, from FinTech to blockchain and so on — has a sustainability or social impact touch. You might not think that a FinTech program follows a sustainability model, but this is important for us. I strongly believe that, in the direction the world is moving with artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, etc., students need these lessons. With everything in the news, people tend to think of these things as a threat. But my colleagues and I are thinking about these technologies not as a threat but as a companion for the future. Not an enemy, but an ally.
And of course, we are thinking about how to implement the curriculum that we are designing in relation to the sustainability of artificial intelligence. From my point of view, as a manager and as an educator, I want to take the positive science and to teach how artificial intelligence is a tool for sustainability — for the society and for the individual. Sometimes we fill our speeches with these sort of big-concept words like society, culture and so on, but we forget that we are still individuals. We can use such tools to our own life, because if we are not doing well ourselves, we cannot help society.
I’m very passionate about neuroscience, and I’m trying to bring this neuroscientific approach to each of the new programs that are designed. This is the future. The first slide in any of my lectures, whatever the topic, is where are going to? I have to say that artificial intelligence, neuroscience — in any field — are the first peak that we have to climb to understand where we’re going as individuals, as society, as human beings.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Our school embraces diversity; QS has ranked us No. 10 in the world in terms of diversity. We have more than 90 different nationalities across our campuses. Every time that I visit any of the campuses, I see such harmony amongst the students.
That is important because our leadership believes, and I believe, that without diversity, you cannot grow. Our approach is that we are absorbing the diversity, the skills, the knowledge, that our students have. The new approach of the learners and the teacher is not a unilateral approach, but it’s a bilateral and multilateral approach. When I attend some of our classes, I see a very high level of participation of all of our students, students that even question some of the theories, and this is the real nature that higher education institutions should embrace. So it’s important for us because we learn from the diversity that we boast in our programs.
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