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Russell Palmer – Interview about the future of global education

Russell Palmer: “We do not want to be huge but very strategic”

Article by Lucia Dorronsoro (translation by Mark Cintron)

07/02/2015 Madrid, Spain

A few days ago, the veteran businessman visited the campus of Schiller International University in Madrid, an institution acquired in 2010.

Image by MAYA BALANYA as featured in ABC Article

Image by MAYA BALANYA as featured in ABC Article

Russell Palmer with Manuel Alonso Puig, current president and CEO of Schiller International University

Russell Palmer’s curriculum brings together as one a double role, an international businessman who knows perfectly the academic world. As Dean of the Wharton School in the nineties, he brought to the famous business school the concept of linking academia and real-business experience which today is in much demand. As president of the Palmer Group, in 2010 he acquired Schiller International University (SIU), an American institution of higher education established in Spain since 1975. The university, with campuses in the United States and Europe, echoes perfectly the philosophy of “Shaping people who are capable of developing a successful international career,” a need that as a veteran entrepreneur he didn’t consider well covered worldwide.

Visiting Madrid after a tight tour of its European centers, Palmer continues talking about an education with an international reach but in small groups, “where everyone knows each and every student.” In the middle of a friendly talk about the future of education and the burden of politics in the education systems, he is grateful for the sun in Madrid.

Universities and business schools worldwide now focus on its international growth, convinced that their survival depends on their global reach in the medium-term. Was Palmer then a visionary?

“Today, the business world is global, large companies generate more than 50% of its revenue outside of their home countries. But sending a manager abroad without a real international experience does not work. It is not only about knowing the business, you also have to know the culture, the language, the customs …” reflecting as he approaches the issue.

So, he continues, in Schiller “We tried to establish a truly flexible and comprehensive system. Flexible because you can start studying any month of the year, our campuses share their programs. And global, because in all our centers, there is a dominant multicultural environment, we have students from over 50 countries, but there is also a great diversity among the faculty. Today we have campuses in Tampa (Florida), Madrid, Paris, Heidelberg and, soon, we will open in London in September 2016.”

With this system, a student can take a break and reengage in their studies seamlessly without this causing any waste of time, effort, or money … “Our programs – he clarifies – allow you to set your own pace, not all of us have the same circumstances in life. I remember, for example, the case of an Indian student who had to return home for three months because of some family issues, and yet he didn’t have to waste that year because of those issues but was able to continue with his program online.”

The aim of this institution is that its students “not only speak other languages and learn about ​​cross-cultural relations, but that they know and live in a different culture without having to change their academic content. We wanted a real and deep immersion,” he stresses. “Other institutions, – he chides- what they do is, open schools in Asia, but they don’t worry about the curriculum having any continuity.”

Two degrees at the same time

For Palmer, that’s one of the most important values Schiller has to offer, which also “has a direct impact on the employability of our students.” That is why, one of his latest “achievements” has been to seek a formula for their students to obtain both a European degree (Bologna) and an American degree, through the agreement with the University of Roehampton (UOR) in London. “This formula allows them to work anywhere in the world. We always strive to give our students better career opportunities,” he says.

Next to him the current president and CEO of SIU, Manuel Alonso Puig, head of this academic institution in Europe and the US. A key element in consolidating the campuses of Madrid, Paris and Heidelberg, and the next one opening in London, and as Palmer has emphasized on different occasions, a Spaniard who insists on being concerned about employability. “Russell Palmer decided to buy Schiller because he saw that the institution had begun that international road much earlier, in 1965, when nobody talked about this need. We are interested in internationalization because we are completely focused on employability. Schiller’s first objective is to help students enter the labor market. And if we shape students with an international outlook, then we will provide a better starting position and an opportunity to obtain better quality jobs and wages.”

Palmer reveals, at the moment, they have no plans to grow in other continents. “We do not want to be huge, but have five or six strategic locations. The London campus, for example, has great appeal for US students.”

In Spain, we expected a university reform that has not occurred. We asked, why is it so hard to make changes to a system anchored in the past?

He reflects, “You talk about Spain, but the same thing happens in the US. In electoral terms, education “sells” because the vast majority of citizens are interested. Therefore they use it to win votes. Call it profitable. But when they come to power, politicians are then faced with reality, it is almost impossible to make any changes.”

Isn’t the debate often focused on issues that are more about form than substance? For example, the controversy over the 3 + 2 or 4 + 1, which has faced the Ministry, University and citizenship, when the real problem is that Spanish university students are unemployed. He concludes, “It’s astonishing, but hardly anyone really thinks about the students and what is most important for them. Universities have so many interferences from politicians, unions, associations … that eventually they end up losing perspective.”

Education focused on employment – Schiller International University