Madis Habakuk has later described how the first few US students from the Pacific Lutheran University arrived, but the local capacity was still inadequate for an international-level business education. EBS only taught a few classes in English, and the rest in Estonian.
It should not come as a surprise that EBS also had its share of the clash of cultures.
Madis Habakuk has admitted: “In the mid-1990s, when we were admitting students from France, we failed to handle the peculiarities of the different cultures. On one occasion, a French student paid a visit to my office at the beginning of December, telling me she was unable to complete the semester and wished to leave. I asked: “What happened, you only have three weeks until end of semester?” She couldn’t comprehend why no-one would give her a hug! “Everyone is so serious and down in the mouth. I feel as if they are angry with me, but I cannot figure out why,” the French student said.”
The greatest leap towards internationalisation was taken by EBS in the mid-1990s. In 1995, the first partner university agreement was concluded for exchange of students and lecturers with the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration (the present-day University of Turku). In 1996, the first full-English bachelor’s programme was launched in business administration.
The logic behind the international study group was simple: the Estonian birth rate was dropping and, in order for the school to function smoothly and qualify as a university, sights should be set on foreign markets. Madis Habakuk found the best environment in Finland, where the competition for a student place was 1:4. This meant that three Finns out of four were unable to study in their home country, and should thus be given an opportunity to study in Estonia. Indeed, the first study group was composed of nearly 15 Finns, with a few students from Estonia and Russia.
The internationalisation of students and lecturers, and the reach-out to foreign markets became increasingly important. In his interview of 21 March 1997 in “Õpetajate Leht”, Madis Habakuk stated that the level of education is quite high in Estonia, but fails in comparison with Europe. “We are still producing specialists for Estonia, mainly. We have trouble competing on foreign markets – language barriers, different beliefs, etc. If we announced that we would start producing specialists for the European or American markets, we would be deceiving our students. The situation is bound to change in the near future – the international market will eventually reach us, and there is a danger that the best positions will be grabbed from us,” predicted the president of the university with 1,600 students.
The vision of EBS is to become the most recognised international business university in the Baltics.