Her main focus lay on promoting student exchange, maintaining relations with foreign partners (both universities and corporations) and establishing new contacts.
Sirli Kalep, who worked with Hijlkema for years and is now head of the foreign and corporate relations department, admits that it would not have been possible for EBS to set up as wide and dignified a network of partner universities without Hijlkema. “For years, Nicola served with the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development). This organisation is involved with institutions offering management-related education and accrediting of study programmes. Thus, Nicola had excellent relations with the world’s leading business schools. As soon as she stated that EBS is a good school, we got our chance at the negotiation table. Without Nicola’s so-to-say guarantee, we probably would not have been able to establish partner relations with many universities”, Sirli Kalep says.
EBS’s reputable partner universities include Università Bocconi in Milan and Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) in the United Kingdom. The agreement concluded with the latter in 2007 provided students of international business administration with the opportunity to acquire a double diploma in the BA programme: the student has to study two years in EBS, then two years in Lancaster and defend the diploma thesis in Lancaster. This will grant the student a diploma from both universities.
In her interview with Eesti Päevaleht, Nicola Hijlkema also emphasised the importance of the cooperation agreement for EBS’s lecturers. “Together with their colleagues in Lancaster, our lecturers can advance both research and educational practices. For years, the research done in LUMS has been well recognised in the United Kingdom. Cooperation with the Lancaster colleagues will surely benefit our lecturers.”
Rector of EBS Arno Almann emphasises that EBS is striving to become even more international, with respect to academic environment as well as lecturers and students. This serves the purpose of providing all EBS alumni with a high-quality and competitive education on the ever-demanding labour market. This does not only mean working abroad, but also working in Estonia – we form a part of an international community.
“Therefore, international experience must be integrated in our study programmes – the kind of knowledge Estonia might not have access to. This knowledge and experience can be provided by foreign lecturers. A foreign lecturer does not therefore mean that the person has arrived from abroad. Rather, the person must have different knowledge, compared to the local lecturer,” Almann emphasises. Currently, 20–25% of EBS lecturers come from foreign countries. A majority of them from European partner universities, but also from Australia and North America.
In 2000, EBS Group purchased a 70% participation in Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration (RISEBA). Four years later, the participation was sold back.