By Steven Haberman
How do you double the size of your undergraduate cohort without sacrificing quality on the altar of quantity?
I’d like to offer as a case study Cass Business School, where—through a process of strategy, calculation, and serendipity—we have managed to do just that.
To introduce Cass, we are a full-service business school based in the center of London, offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs including our well-ranked specialist master’s, MBA, PhD, executive education, and consultancy.
At an undergraduate level we offer six courses: accounting & finance, actuarial science, banking & international finance, business studies, investment & financial risk management, and management.
We are part of City University London, which was founded in 1894, with the business school added in 1966. The Financial Times ranks us as one of the top four business schools in the U.K. and top 20 in Europe.
In 2007, my predecessor Richard Gillingwater took over the reins at Cass and initiated a complete review of its operations. One of his first questions was, “Why do we have undergraduate degrees?” With many very successful business schools taking the postgraduate- and executive education-only route, should Cass move away from providing undergraduate education?
The answer came back a resounding no. Educating young professionals had always been one of our strengths and is an important part of what we do.
This decision proved to be a sound one. Our undergraduate enrollment continues on an upward trend. From around 400 students in 2008-09, in 2013-14 we welcomed nearly 800 entrants into the first year, many of whom came to us from outside the U.K. At the same time, we have actually tightened our entry requirements.
This change has occurred despite an increasingly competitive undergraduate market with recent changes to U.K. Border Agency visa regulations and home/ European Union tuition legislation.
As for most U.K. universities, tuition fees for home and European Union students at City were increased in 2012-13 to £9,000 (13,978.35 USD). This is small compared to fees at many American schools, but in a country where higher education was free until 1998—when fees of £1,000 (1,553.15 USD) per year were introduced, moving to £3,000 (4,659.45 USD) in 2004—it marked a major shift.
So what worked?
Our international focus has proved popular. We draw our students from over 100 countries; approximately 75 percent are now from outside of the U.K. In 2013, a total of 74 nationalities joined our undergraduate program with the biggest communities coming from China, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Russia, Romania, France, Italy, and Sweden. This year we welcomed students from as far afield as Afghanistan, Burundi, Columbia, Egypt, Lithuania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, and Western Sahara.
How did we achieve this level of internationalism?
I believe that today’s business is global, and being surrounded by people from different backgrounds and cultures can give our students a head start when it comes to working with diverse groups later in life.
Sixty percent of our full-time academics are from outside the U.K., so our students learn from people with international knowledge and outlooks.
We also offer an international network. Since 2010, our undergraduate exchange program has grown to over 30 partnerships. We have seen a notable increase in students applying for replacement second-year and sandwich-year abroad opportunities for 2014, with a 69 percent increase in total student applications.
Our partners include highly regarded institutions in Europe (Bocconi University, IE Business School, ESSEC Business School), Asia (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University, and Chinese University of Hong Kong), North America (University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business and University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business), and South America (Universidad Argentina de la Empresa). We also receive students from our partner institutions as well as students on exchange schemes.
Our students recognize the need to appeal to an international job market. The opportunity to learn an extracurricular language has proven popular. In 2012-13 we launched a pilot scheme of extracurricular languages and had around 200 students participate. In 2013, all languages were offered in a non-credit format, and 407 students enrolled. By taking languages out of the credit system, students have more flexibility. We offer Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic, as well as European language options.
Our City of London location is a vital ingredient of our successful international recruitment strategy. In 2003 we moved to our current home at Bunhill Row, close to the financial and professional service firms of the city, and also close to Tech City—filled with bustling start-ups. Our relationships with these neighbors grow ever closer—and provide great opportunities for our students.
We are closely linked to relevant professional bodies through our academics’ work, through joint events, and through the programs themselves.
For example, our BSc in Accounting and Finance students gain professional qualification credits for prior learning from the CII (Chartered Insurance Institute), CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), and ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) by completing their Cass program.
We put a lot of emphasis on professional placements and summer internships. We recognize how vital these programs are to our students’ employment prospects. The wheels of this process are oiled by our location and the subsequent relationships we have developed.
However, we must not grow complacent. Recent developments include an upgrade and complete refresh to our undergraduate facilities with dedicated areas for group work, quiet study, and socializing.
At the same time, we have increased our scholarship offering and launched “CassConnect,” a new recruitment microsite to create an enhanced personalized journey to drive conversion activities.
With other developments in the pipeline, I hope that our highly international undergraduate program will continue to be a jewel in our crown for years to come.