BI Norwegian Business School was first established as a night school by Finn Øien in 1943. Over the next decade, BI came to offer a two-year daytime programme approved by the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.
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BI Norwegian Business School was first established as a night school by Finn Øien in 1943. Over the next decade, BI came to offer a two-year daytime programme approved by the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.
In 1943, Finn Øien established the BI Norwegian Business School at Akersgaten 56.
BI did not start out as a college. The first course in business administration only lasted three months with a two-hour class once per week. From the autumn of 1944, the main course in business administration was expanded to one year of evening courses, and was further expanded to two years the following year. At the same time, BI developed into a supplier of short, independent courses within accountancy, industry bookkeeping, machine bookkeeping and business statistics.
With the establishment of the two-year daytime course in 1946, the same year that the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) expanded from two to three years, BI started looking more like a college. Formally, no public authorities approved BI as a college, but BI presented its programme as a college-level course.
In the 1950s, continuing education of managers from various areas became a new area of education. There were also continuing education courses tailored to specific companies or occupational groups. BI had the business network through its students and the ambition to offer tailored corporate training. However, the Administrative Research Institute (AFF), which was established by NHH, became the largest supplier of this in the education market. Another development in the 1950s was that the professional and trade union organisations became more involved in education and training issues. BI therefore did not benefit much from the new markets that arose, and was often left out of the new networks that developed in the 1950s.
The number of students attending BI continued to grow in the 1960s. At the same time, the increasing number of students was met with expanding study programmes offered with a summer school and the option to supplement the daytime course with a one-year full-time course in either operations analysis or finance.
On 1 July 1968, BI went from being a privately owned limited company to a non-profit foundation. This meant that students attending BI’s two-year daytime programme would have part of their tuition covered. The grant was set at 75 per cent of what the State regarded as BI’s operating expenses. Over just a few years, BI’s position in society was radically changed. The school was bigger and had a lively student community. The government support gave BI a new financial foundation, but also meant that BI had to accept being controlled and governed by the State.
Gerson Komissar was hired as President of BI in 1975. During Komissar’s time as President, new visions were launched, processed and deployed with associated organisational changes.
Gerson Komissar laid the foundation for the further development of BI. He developed the entrepreneurial BI into an institution with legitimacy in society at large, introduced social science subjects and expanded the cooperation with public authorities.
Komissar’s task was to lead an institution that had undergone a very significant expansion. His term as President stands out as a new era in BI’s history. This involved a stronger management and organisation with an elected President, greater emphasis placed on the role of external board members, formalisation of wage and collective negotiations and incipient research activity.
The idea that BI would conduct its own research was not new, but was strengthened under Komissar. The breakthrough came when BI established its own research committee in 1975. In 1977, the committee defined four primary areas for continued research at BI. These were administrative practice, purchasing economics, the capital market situation and material administration.
In the 1970s, the authorities were working on three issues that affected BI’s position as a private alternative within higher financial-administrative education. The first applied to the accountant education, the second was related to the follow-up of the Private School Act of 1970 and the third dealt with higher education in Eastern Norway. In parallel to these developments, the explosive increase in students in the 1960s was declining somewhat. This was not only caused by the establishment of the regional colleges, but also that Norwegian youth was characterised by the anticapitalistic trends through the EC referendum. This appeared to have an impact on the study paths chosen.
However, the enrolment numbers started to increase towards the end of the 1970s for the advanced programmes in business administration at NHH and BI’s graduate business administration programme. The Government started to realise that the public was dependent on help from private alternatives in order to cover the demand. Through the difficult political process in the 1970s, very positive relationships were formed between BI’s management and the public. A relationship of trust had been established, which entailed that BI could start seriously discussing whether BI would receive formal official approval as a business school with the right to offer Master’s degrees in business and economics.
In 1981, Jørgen Randers was elected BI President. Randers used a proactive and expansive strategy, and was the President that turned BI into a truly academic school.
It was during this period that BI established its own network of regional colleges. BI also hired its first three professors during Randers’ term.
The 1980s belonged to the economists. It was also a great decade for BI. Firstly, BI became a truly academic school. Secondly, BI finally achieved its long-term goal of being recognised as a business school. Thirdly,
BI as an organisation went from being a college in Oslo with independent partner schools around the country, to being a corporation with regional departments. And finally, BI graduates were truly starting to leave a mark on the job market.
There was a formidable increase in the demand for financial-administrative education in the 1980s. BI’s student body increased more than tenfold over just a few years, and in 1986, more than 12 000 applied to study business administration at BI.
Research was already a defined task when Randers started the position. His most important task became developing BI into a specialised university institution. The academisation came in the form of Randers increasing the faculty by adding external forces. Significant individual freedom was considered necessary to attract superstars.
As a result of this, a gradual halving of the teaching commitment was introduced in the 1980s, which made it possible for faculty members to undertake assignments as consultants. This made BI a more attractive workplace. Externally financed research increased and BI’s faculty often contributed at academic congresses.
Academic communities were also being established in research centres. At the same time, the academic management was strengthened when Kjell Eliassen was chosen as BI’s first provost in 1985. He had a dedicated responsibility for academic development.
In December 1988, BI moved into new premises in Sandvika. The building was perceived to be a physical expression of the changes the institution underwent in the 1980s. Organised around a glass promenade and with a modern library with a central location in the building, the character of a specialised university institution was emphasised. The building also realised the idea of more rational and efficient teaching with several small and large auditoriums.
In 1989, Peter Lorange became BI’s President. As the newly elected President, he was particularly concerned with internationalising BI and making the institution a leading business school in Europe.
Peter Lorange also stood for an expansive strategy and BI’s position within the education system was further strengthened during his term as President. During this period, numerous agreements with both private companies and public administration institutions were formalised.
Under Minister Gudmund Hernes, there was an education policy that changed the conditions for BI’s role in the education system. For example, emphasis was placed on concentrating higher education into fewer and stronger education centres, and developing a national network with work distribution between institutions.
This mainly affected public institutions, but during the negotiations with the Norwegian School of Management (NMH) and Oslo Handelshøyskole (OHH), BI learned that the Ministry did not have a negative view as regards concentration within the private sector as well.
The work on merging BI with NMH and OHH started back under Jørgen Randers in 1989, but the proposed agreement was not supported by the faculty. However, in 1992, both institutions reached out to BI again for new negotiations as the costs of improving these two small private schools were too great.
BI finally achieved mergers with NMH and OHH in 1992, NILA and Oslo Markedshøyskole in 1993 and Bankakademiet in 1994. This also allowed BI to focus on competing against more quality-conscious friends, such as NHH in Bergen. The offer vis-à-vis the lifelong-learning segment was also established. This took place through the launch of the Master of Management programme in 1992.
Lorange had a strong desire to strengthen the research aspect. It was very imbalanced at that time, and there was generally too little research. As a step in encouraging faculty to research more, he introduced performance appraisals in connection with the annual reporting. This had an impact and he continued this effort by working to strengthen the faculty by elevating a single unified team – instead of forming an A team and a B team.
Leif Frode Onarheim became BI’s President in 1993. Onarheim represented the contact with business and industry, with his background from the Nora group and as vice-president of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO).
Onarheim took BI into a consolidation period that was characterised by structuring and systematisation. The doctorate programme was established during this period and the Master of Management study programme was officially approved. Onarheim strengthened BI’s contact with businesses, while boosting BI’s standing in political circles. Onarheim later became president of NHO and a member of parliament for the Conservative Party (Høyre).
The first matter that Onarheim had to devote his attention to was sorting out the finances, and the systems at BI needed an upgrade. The many mergers conducted under Lorange came at a cost, while the former management had focused more on the structure of the departments and education programmes. Terje Jacobsen was hired as chief financial officer. He knew what was most critical and could make sure that there was a correlation between the profit, balance sheet and liquidity. This resulted in dismissals in the faculty and is referred to as a tough first year, but the financial situation improved after just 1.5 years.
BI’s standing in the political environment was still poor when Onarheim became President. Like Lorange, it was important for Onarheim to use his time as President to build trust in the Storting and in the Ministry. This was particularly clear in connection with the approval of the Master of Management (MM) study programme.
A year after BI applied for approval of the MM programmes, we were told that the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) could have Master of Management programmes, but BI had to stop. After this decision, Onarheim offered to take Jon Lilletun (Minister of Education, Research and Church Affairs 1997-2000) on a drive to confront him with the issue.
Fourteen days later, there was a new Royal Decree where BI also received its final approval. Lilletun became a good advocate for BI, and BI’s management was highly dependent on having an open and good relationship with him in order to obtain these approvals.
The divide between the public and private sector in an education context is in the process of becoming less pronounced as the 1990s progress. BI is now performing research assignments for both State-owned and private entities. In the education, there are separate study programmes in the private and public sector for the MBA programme and Master of Management. The public sector is increasingly becoming a market for the services that BI provides.
Torger Reve became BI’s President in 1997. Under Reve’s management, BI strengthened its education and research activities. This was exhibited through BI’s international accreditation in 1999, with the award of the European quality approval EQUIS.
Reve also introduced the term “bilingualism” at BI. This meant aspiring to both high-quality research and practical education, and speaking both the academic and business language. He was also the first president to establish the goal of BI becoming Norway’s first private university.
Over many years, BI enjoyed great success as Norway’s most well-known education institution and had done impressive work in both Oslo and the rest of the country. But BI did not have a solid research platform, which was entirely necessary in order to join the university club. Reve’s first task was therefore to build up the research base at BI. This included recruiting academic staff, which was very costly, and further developing the doctorate programme that was approved just before he started his term as President.
BI started competing more and more in an international market, which meant that it became necessary to introduce teaching in English. This was introduced partly for the bachelor level and completely for the master and doctorate levels. BI thus became more open to the rest of the world.
The international effort was also about establishing separate operations outside Norway. Business is international, which means that BI as an education institution must learn from the international market. Following in-depth deliberations, the management decided to establish operations at Fudan University in Shanghai in China in 1995, and at the International School of Management in Lithuania in 2000.
When Reve came to BI, its campuses were spread across three different locations in Oslo and Bærum, in addition to the other regional campuses. A joint location was therefore prioritised, and Nydalen was chosen as the location. The building was opened the same day that Reve resigned as President.
Accreditations also played a key role in Reve’s term as President. BI received its first international accreditation from EQUIS back in 1999, and BI received Norwegian approval from NOKUT (the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education) in 2004, in addition to a reaccreditation from EQUIS. This was first and foremost a stamp of quality for the outside world, but was also especially important internally due to the improvement processes that large parts of the organisation had to undergo.
In 2006, Tom Colbjørnsen is elected as the new President. His term as President was characterised by consolidation and academisation of all of BI. The institution was accredited as a specialised university institution by NOKUT (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education) in 2008, thus achieving an important milestone.
Colbjørnsen’s most important initiative was shaping BI into a more specialised international business school. His vision was that BI would become a leading European business school in the near future. In the spring of 2014, BI was awarded the prestigious AACSB accreditation, thus achieving the status of a business school with triple accreditation.
Colbjørnsen’s vision was to lead the institution to become one of the leading European business schools. The Financial Times rankings became a key yardstick for BI’s international standing. In order to succeed with these ambitions, the strategy entailed concentrating the resources on being a high-profile business school – an international and competitive business school.
Fearing that the school would be perceived as unclear, he wanted to sharpen the disciplines around business administration and economics, marketing, strategy, management and administration. BI’s unique feature would still be a combination of academic clout and business relevance. The number of campuses apart from Oslo was reduced from twelve to three during Colbjørnsen’s term, the number of bachelor programmes was reduced from 19 to 13 and the number of Master of Science programmes from eight to five.
Most of the new strategic foundation was in place in 2013, and two areas were particularly prioritised. BI already had the European EQUIS accreditation in place. BI’s Norwegian Executive MBA programme and the BI-Fudan MBA programme in China were also accredited by the Association for MBAs in 2013. Just before the end of Colbjørnsen’s term, the institution’s accreditation in the US Association of Collegiate School of Business (AACSB) was also approved, making BI a Triple Crown school.
Due to an increasingly robust financial situation and earnings, BI was able to implement a major improvement in 2013, with regard to digitalising our study systems, examinations and teaching methods. This would allow us to provide our students with much faster and better service, to create new learning forums online, simplify the examination and grading process and, not least, further develop the educational science.
Inge Jan Henjesand was elected new President in 2014. In June 2017, the Board decided to extend his contract to 2022. The Board wanted Henjesand to continue the on going development projects that will prepare BI for the future.
Henjesand's first four years have been based on building the knowledge economy. The strategy can be summarized in three words: Impact, International and Interaction.
Impact is about the ability to influence international research and to influence students' learning and practice in business and society in a positive direction. This should be BI's driving force and leading competitive edge.
International is about how BI will fulfil its role as an internationally oriented knowledge institution and contributor to society.
Interaction is about the interaction between the academic staff, between academic staff and administrative staff, between BI and students, and between BI, business and society as a whole. The quality of what BI delivers will always depend on the quality of the interaction facilitated by the institution.
Close contact with business has always been one of BI's strengths. During the last presidential term, this work has been further systematized through the establishment of various advisory boards.
Digitization affects our sector, how the teaching and the examinations are conducted. It affects our daily processes and support functions that benefit both students and employees, and it places new demands on the content of the programmes we offer our students.
BI must have courses and programmes that are digitally updated and relevant. BI's academics must cultivate an understanding of technology, digital skills and a "digital mind set". Therefore, in recent years, much has been invested in professional development and recruitment to ensure that BI will be equipped to create this new professional platform.
As BI enter the jubilee year, the school launch two new programmes that take these needs seriously. The Master of Science in Business Analytics combines skills in data science with business school subjects, and Executive MBA Digital enables executives to set digital agendas and handle digital transformation in their own organization. Digital is launched as a new "line" at EMBA, and the first class starts in March.
BI celebrated the schools 75th anniversary in 2018. Through this year we focused on who we are and what it is all about – the research to academia and more than 300.000 alumni who graduated from BI over the past years. Every single week throughout 2018 we profiled a new alumni in our digitals arenas. BI hosted festivals of knowledge at all our campuses, and with the anthology “At the forefront looking ahead” we focused on our professionals` finest research.
BI aims to increase both the international scientific publications and the share of articles in top-ranked scientific journals. We are thrilled to share that our fraction of articles in these scientific journals was doubled compared to 2017.
In 2018 we achieved re-accreditation from Associations of MBAs (AMBA), which is one of three accreditation that constitute BI as a Triple Crown school. This is an important seal of quality which means BI has programs equivalent to the best in the world.
In 2019 we worked with innovating and revitalizing the study portfolio, as well as facilitate for the students learning progress.
In 2020 BI implemented a new quality system for learning to secure that we systematically document all the action related to the development and revision of the school`s courses and study programs.
When we opened our new modern and energy efficient campus at Stavanger in 2019, sustainability was in focus. BI was also a partner with Oslo as a European Green Capitol 2019.
We were inspired by BI`s students who approved to merge SBIO and BIS into one student organization, which took effect from 1. January 2020. BISO work to make BI a even better school, and to give students an opportunity to stand out in the national student politics.