The P&Q Interview: Delphine Manceau, Dean Of France’s NEOMA Business School

NEOMA Business School’s Rouen Campus. Courtesy photo

You were reappointed as NEOMA’s dean for four more years in February. What do you think were your big accomplishments in your first tenure?

Apart from the digital transformation, a thing I’m proud of is that we really developed services for students. Four years ago, we decided to create a wellness center for students to support well being. I know that’s existed for a long time in the U.S., but in France, it was pretty new. When the project was first presented to me, it was before COVID, and I was like, “Are you sure that we really need that?” Obviously, the teams were visionary, and it’s been really a key element.

I think supporting student wellbeing is so important, both from a medical and psychological standpoint, but also in helping students cope with stress and how to better handle time management. It combines the consideration of more serious medical issues with the standard questions that young, recently autonomized students ask themselves. I’m proud of that because it was really new four years ago, and I’m really happy we did it at the time. Obviously we used it a lot during the pandemic, and we still use it a lot because these young generations really need support.

How would you define the identity of NEOMA? What do you want to be known for?

Our signature is, “Be passionate, shape the future,” and we want to be known as a very innovative business school.

We launched the very first virtual campus in Europe – so a bit like the Metaverse, but it was before the Metaverse. We are creating a coding school, we are among the first to develop virtual reality case studies, and we work a lot on innovative teaching spaces in rooms on our campuses.

So it’s both digital, but it’s also related to pedagogy. We developed a project last year called Neopedagogy, and the idea was really to learn all the lessons of the last two years in terms of online teaching — what works, what doesn’t work, what we want to keep now that we have the choice, and what we don’t want to do anymore. We are deploying it for all our classes now that we can choose if we want to teach face-to-face or online. We have a minimum 70% of face-to-face teaching, but between 20 to 30% depending on the topics of teaching is online, both synchronous and asynchronous. Online teaching will remain to some degree because it’s a way for students to learn how to work remotely. As part of their future career, they need to learn how to behave online on Zoom, how to do a creative workshop online, and so on. We’ve been pioneers on many topics, and that’s what we want to be known for.

Going back to your virtual campus: Now that some of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, how is it being used now?

We use it a lot to bring together students from different locations. Our students are participating in exchange programs again, and we have three different campuses in France. Students can use the virtual campus to meet and work together, no matter what campus they are on or where they are located.

A snapshot of NEOMA’s Virtual Campus.

We use it also for non teaching events. For instance, we have 400 academic partners throughout the world. Before, we would organize an international day where we would present each partner. Now we do a big event on the virtual campus where each partner has a booth and presents themselves to the students, and the students love it. Before they would only gather information on three or four academic partners they’d already heard of or they would target a specific country. Now, it’s much easier to go and see 50 of them because your avatar just goes from one booth to the other and interviews the people there. It really works well for events, and also for company forums.

I want to talk a bit about your executive education offerings, and what trends you are seeing in the market now.

Our executive education portfolio is a lot about custom programs. In terms of open programs, we have a flagship program called Objectif Manager which is for people, usually with an engineering or technical background, who want to step into management. What we are developing right now are programs combining tech and data with management. So for instance, we are launching a new program on data management on cybersecurity and different blended learning programs. Clearly that’s the trend, especially for these kinds of technical skills.

Part of it is online, but also it’s very important for participants to get together and share, and so we really try to combine the two. I mentioned before that for student programs the majority (70%) is face-to-face teaching. For executive education, that’s not the case. It’s the reverse of that.

We also are developing online certificates. Our participants are very keen on showing their expertise in a particular topic.

What’s coming up for NEOMA? What initiatives or upcoming announcements have you excited?

We are launching next September a new Master of Science in Sustainable Transitions that we’re very excited about. The idea of this program is to cover different kinds of transitions — from climate change, of course, but also gender, diversity, management, and all the changes that companies are experiencing – including future-of-work approaches and how to manage more on a remote basis.

We have more programs around FinTech, and tech and management. We really feel that there is a trend for more hybrid knowledge, combining tech expertise with management know how. Today, either we have tech experts, but they’re not great leaders and managers, or we have the standard business school programs, but we feel that companies need more hybrid competencies combining the two.

What are some of the challenges you see ahead for NEOMA?

We are facing two political challenges. I think that’s true for NEOMA, but for everyone. I think management education has been really global for several years. We have 30% of international students at NEOMA on campus, and we send all our students abroad. We also teach a lot about global business mindsets. The geopolitical trends and tensions these days question a bit of what we do. I think we have a role to play because, as I said earlier, we are leading the way for future generations in higher education. I think it’s very important that we keep opening their minds and pushing them to see and experience other cultures. But, it’s much less natural than it was five years ago.

Plans for NEOMA Business School’s new Reims Campus set to open in 2025. Courtesy photo

The second challenge is really about climate change and sustainability. We need to include that in a much stronger way in our programs. There was a big shock in France because at some engineering schools’ graduation speeches, some students said they didn’t want to be part of the system, and they didn’t want to join companies that are harming the planet. I think it all challenged us, at least it challenged me. I really felt that we need to show our students that they’re here to change the world. But I’m not talking only about climate change. I’m also talking about diversity, about gender parity, about including new ways of managing people and handling topics.

I think we need to empower the young generation so that they feel that they can change the system from inside. We should give them the tools but also the self confidence and energy to take up the challenge.

That’s a major challenge, but it’s also pretty exciting.

What about opportunities for NEOMA?

I think the opportunity is a lot about innovation, both in terms of digitization and entrepreneurship. I think this is an amazing time to create new businesses and to change the way we do business.

I also mentioned hybrid programs combining tech and business. I think these are amazing opportunities. We should work much more with engineering schools, design schools, social sciences, and geopolitical schools. We just signed an agreement with the school in geopolitics and as I said, this is a key issue these days. I think creating more links across disciplines is pretty exciting.

What are your goals for your next four-year tenure?

We have a lot of ambition for NEOMA. NEOMA has been going up in the rankings, it’s well known, the number of international students has been increasing. We want to be even more international, more, well known.

As I said, we now have 400 academic partners around the world, some of the best ones in the world. Also, in France, the undergraduate segment is really booming, so I think we will have more undergrad students in the future. And that’s another type of fun.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Something I didn’t mention that I’m proud of that’s also a challenge for the future is about social diversity in business schools, and we have tripled the amount of scholarships. I just saw that Harvard created a full scholarship for some students from underprivileged backgrounds. We’ve been doing that for a few years, and we are really trying to make money not an issue when we have very good students. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.


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