Tom Colbjørnsen - Accreditation
In 2006, Tom Colbjørnsen is elected as the new president. Before this, Colbjørnsen was a professor of organisation and management at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH). He has a Master of Business and Economics (Siviløkonom), and a degree in sociology, and his doctoral thesis was based on work on inequality in the job market. His term as president was characterised by consolidation and a focus on academics for 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. This meant that Colbjørnsen came very far in achieving his goal of making BI an international business school.
The 1980s were characterised by a vast need for people with expertise in business administration. Apart from BI and NHH, there were few options for a business education at that time. There was a market waiting to be saturated. BI’s decentralisation over large parts of the country is therefore considered by very many today to have been a stroke of genius at that time. Later on, the public school system started developing its own options for business administration education, and students became more mobile, starting to move to the major cities. For this reason, Tom Colbjørnsen believed that the decentralised strategy in the 1980s had been played out and that the time was ripe for a consolidation to unify academic forces.
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. A society that will increasingly be based on knowledge, needs education institutions that put research and education for increased value creation at the top of the agenda.
Colbjørnsen wanted BI to be present in the reputation business. BI was feeling the increased competition from foreign schools for ambitious students, excellent teachers and employers’ attention. When it came to building a good reputation, it was all about developing academic strength, according to the president. The closing of campuses and discontinuation of study programmes, and the additions to academic staff that were implemented during his term were all measures to build this academic strength.
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. At the same time, BI’s international focus had to be defined further. The plan was to engage more foreign professors, entice more international students and representation from abroad in BI’s governing bodies.
Most of the new strategic foundation was in place in 2013, and two areas were particularly prioritised.
One was international accreditations. BI already had the European EQUIS accreditation in place. BI’s Executive MBA programme in Norway 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.
The other prioritised focus area was digitalisation. 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 pedagogically.
Not long after Colbjørnsen became president, the financial crisis hit in 2007. First in the United States, then spreading to several European countries. In the autumn of 2008, parts of the international finance market completely broke down, as many of the world’s largest commercial banks were hesitant to lend each other money. The crisis challenged economists, which naturally led to a period of soul-searching, including among BI’s economists. BI first noticed the financial crisis through a debate in academic arenas. The topic focused on what effect the crisis would have. Would there be a U curve, a V curve or a W? Beyond this, BI was not hit very hard by the actual financial crisis. Housing prices dropped significantly one year, and the number of applicants to the real estate programme also dropped in line with this, but it did not last long. The following year, the numbers were back to normal. What BI’s management has experienced, and the advantage of operating an education institution, is that BI has done well during both good and bad times.