Recently, we caught up with Professor Francois Therin of IMT Dubai to discuss entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and how technology is shaping learning in higher education.
Professor Therin is interested in the internationalisation of higher education in general and business schools in particular. He has been active in the development of online learning for the past 20 years and his main research focus has been innovation and entrepreneurship.
Currently IMT Dubai Business School Director in the United Arab Emirates, Professor Francois Therin has worked and lived in six different countries. He has held Dean/Director positions in France, Malaysia and Oman, and worked as an academic in Canada and Australia.
For the past 23 years he has taught and researched in business schools. His additional roles have included being Head of a Center for Techno-Entrepreneurship; Associate Director of Studies for International Programs; Project Director for E-learning and International Development; and Vice-President for Academic Affairs.
How would you describe your role at IMT Dubai?
Being the director of a small but growing business school means that I am involved in all aspects of the management. I work of course on the strategy and development of the school, I represent it in corporate and academic meetings in the UAE and internationally but I also discuss any issues or initiatives with employees. Having a small team of motivated staff is great as the communication is fast.
What is your favourite thing about working at IMT?
The interaction with the students. After 25 years in academia, I am still regularly amazed by their enthusiasm and their entrepreneurialism. At IMT Dubai Business School, we have students from different parts of the world, which makes the experience richer for them and for us. Working in the UAE is also great. It is a fast-paced environment for business and for higher education so it’s really a source of motivation for a director of a business school.
You describe yourself as a higher education Intrapreneur. What does 'intrapreneurship' mean to you and what other projects are you currently working on?
Yes, I realised one day that it's a good summary of what I have been doing in the different business schools I've worked in for the past 25 years. Intrapreneurship in the context of higher education means bringing an institution to the next level by constantly developing new projects and challenging the status-quo. This can’t be done in all organisations, but I was lucky enough to work in environments and countries where it is possible. For IMT Dubai Business School, it means innovative programs with other institutions, more flexibility in the regular programs, more opening up to the corporate world and more opportunities for a global immersion. They’re the main projects we are working on currently, along with more standard ones such as pursuing international accreditations.
We’ve heard a lot recently about how AI is transforming the learning experience. What’s next for AI in the education sphere?
This summer I read the best-seller “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun. It is quite clear to me that A.I. will act in at least two ways: the first is to facilitate personalized learning and the many initiatives in EdTech that are really exciting, although so far it is more advanced in K-12 than in higher education, and secondly, it will force institutions to move even faster on what many have been doing already: offering a true international immersion.
See the success of ERASMUS in Europe, developing experiential learning, the co-op system practiced in universities in the US or apprenticeships in France, the integration of soft skills in the curriculum to develop critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship. This is - in some ways - a move “back in time” towards liberal arts and companionship as it was done a few centuries ago, but for a large number of students.
The next big challenge, which is not yet accepted today, is the true move toward life-long learning, and AI can again support that. Glassdoor has recently published a list of companies that no longer require a four year college degree: you will find companies of the “new economy”, Google or Apple but also from the more traditional sectors: EY, Hilton or Penguin Random House. Now, we need to convince students and parents that higher education can happen at any time. It also means that universities and business schools have to adapt their curriculum.
How can higher education professionals help to nurture entrepreneurship in the classroom?
By going outside of the classroom! Entrepreneurship is like flying: you can teach it a lot but you have to witness it then and finally practice it. Interacting with entrepreneurs in the classroom, offering incubation spaces, the possibility to work on a project for credits, are all activities that can multiply the effect of an entrepreneurship course. We also make students understand that it is perfectly fine to fail.
Your book, Handbook of Research on Techno-Entrepreneurship, was published in 2014. What is techno-entrepreneurship, what does it look like in a higher education context and how has it developed over the past four years?
Yes, and the next Handbook will be published in 2019. Techno-entrepreneurship is broadly defined as the entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial activities in technology intensive environments. 20 years ago when I started using it, it was limited to a few industries. Now, everything can be techno-entrepreneurial.
In higher education, it means seeing technologies and AI particularly as an opportunity more than a threat, for our professors but also for our graduates. There are more and more initiatives to integrate technoentrepreneurship into the curriculum, for the professors and for the students, in order to develop experiential learning and technology literacy.
IMT Dubai prides itself on the strong industry interface students receive during their studies. How important are internships in equipping students with the skills needed for today’s workplace?
They are of utmost importance. Internships are a way for students to validate what kind of first job and first company they would like to start their career with. Their soft skills are also developed, along with a true experience that they can value in their CVs. We are actively working to make internships even more integrated in the curriculum.
How is technology helping to shape higher education from a pedagogical perspective?
Technology in general has been forcing professors to change the way they teach. First, students can easily challenge what they are saying and furthermore, they have access to the same knowledge as the faculty. So the pedagogy has moved a lot to 'explaining' more than 'presenting', applying a lot, experiencing and sharing. It also means that students have to be more prepared before entering the classroom. Technology has initiated the development of blended-learning and flipped classrooms at a larger scale. Mentoring becomes key in the process.
What is IMT Dubai doing to remain at the forefront of technology?
As we are a small business school, we cannot invest in very large systems or applications. It forces us to be more innovative. In fact, what we do is to spend more time in discussing pedagogies and sharing best practices among our faculty members on how to make the best use of technologies.
Fortunately, many applications are very affordable and open educational resources are blooming, thanks again to technologies. And students are also coming with new ideas on how to use technologies, creating a virtuous circle of pedagogical improvement to make them even more industry-ready.
"My Job in Higher Ed" is a monthly series. Take a look at our other interviews.