How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    My job in higher ed: Alison Knight, General Director at ISM

    Alison is General Director at ISM in Paris. She tells us about the main qualities she looks for in applicants and how education can open doors
    Last updated:
    December 3, 2021

    Alison is General Director at International School of Management in Paris. She tells us about the main qualities she looks for in applicants and how education can open doors.

    What does a typical day at ISM look like? Is there such a thing?

    There's no real typical day. I oversee a lot of areas, including admissions, marketing, communications, business development, international partners and provide general supervision to staff, so there’s a lot of variety.

    I could be doing anything from conducting a candidate’s final interview to meeting with our marketing consultants to build new materials. I'll also typically meet with internal staff and external partners who are managing our partners and our programmes that we run all over the world.

    What are the main challenges in your role, and how do you attempt to overcome them?

    I manage the expectations of lots of different stakeholders and it can be a challenge to make sure that everyone's needs are satisfied.

    The international aspect of what we do also presents challenges. There might be an instance where we're coordinating with a French business school and we're sending a group of students to New York or Shanghai. The different institutions we’re working with may have different levels of bureaucracy, different budgets and different ways of doing things.

    As a result, these kinds of international projects require a whole different level of communication, cultural expectations and different ways of working. It's a challenge but one that I really enjoy.

    What are the most rewarding parts?

    Once or twice a year, I get to visit our international programmes. Because most of the time I'm very administrative and mostly in the office, those visits are really the only time I spend a lot of time with students. They allow me to get a better understanding of the students and listen to them explain the impact that ISM has had on their lives and careers. That's really rewarding because I see the impact in a much more concrete way.

    Recently, we had our first graduation. We had over 200 people come and a number of graduates came to celebrate together from all over the world. There were at least ten or 15 different nationalities represented. We had some people bring their entire family. That was really rewarding to see.

    How does ISM offer an international education experience?

    The main location is here in Paris. We also have an office and full-time staff in New York. While these are the only locations where we offer full programmes, our students can also study in Shanghai, New Delhi, São Paulo and Cape Town. We have worked with leading universities in these locations to develop specialised programmes that are available just for our student body.

    What are the defining characteristics of the ISM approach to teaching?

    One of the biggest ones is customisation. That's something which I think is extremely distinctive and different to more traditional universities.

    We give students lots of different options in terms of how they choose their course credits. They create their programme themselves based on location, timing and subject matter. They're getting out only what they want to get out of it and at their own pace. That makes it more accessible to a lot of different people.

    Secondly, the international aspect of our programmes. The fact that someone can study in six different locations. That's something other schools are increasingly adopting, we’ve been offering it since the 1990s.

    The third thing that makes us distinct is that we're very practitioner-oriented. As opposed to traditional programmes that are very theoretical and academic. All of our professors are active both in business and academia. Often, they are running their own company and teaching the course on the side.

    When it comes to business education, how important is an international perspective?

    An international perspective is fundamental to everything ISM does, both operationally and academically. We're running programmes across the world and the curriculum itself is very internationally minded.

    Our student body is also very international. Our students comprise over 100 different nationalities. They are mostly high-level senior executives, CEOs and entrepreneurs and they have lots of real-world experience in business. They have a lot to contribute to our academic community.

    What are the main qualities you look for in applicants?

    One of the biggest things is self-motivation. Our programmes are very non-traditional: they're individualised and customised programmes. Each student has the possibility to shape their programme, which takes a lot of motivation.

    We also look at whether they're internationally minded – either that they're already operating in an international capacity or that they have the desire or competency to do so.

    How do you see business education changing in the next ten years?

    I've already seen it changing a lot. It seems like a lot of the ways in which it's changing are towards some of the methods that ISM has employed for a while. For instance, the international dimension and the fact that you can study in multiple places.

    There's also an increased tendency to de-bundle the programmes themselves. For example, you have MOOCs, online courses and certificate programmes which allow people to choose the parts of education that they want. That level of customisation is something that's already happening at ISM but that I'm seeing more and more elsewhere.

    What does education mean to you?

    It means opportunity. I have my own perspectives and feelings about the ivory tower of academia, but the reality is that it does serve as a gatekeeper in a lot of situations. I do see it as a way of opening doors. But it also represents growth and the willingness to improve ourselves and to improve the community as well.


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