Interview with Nikolaj Malchow-Møller, President, Copenhagen Business School

Interview with Nikolaj Malchow-Møller, President, Copenhagen Business School


Please give us an overview of Copenhagen Business School’s strategic priorities for 2024 and beyond.

Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is a comprehensive institution, often referred to as a business university, boasting a significant student body of 20,000 — an impressive number for a business school. We maintain a strong international focus while operating as a publicly funded university. This dual identity not only presents us with opportunities but also places a responsibility on us to address societal challenges and opportunities seriously. Our goal is to equip our students and leverage our research to contribute to tackling these challenges in areas where business plays a pivotal role.

A few years ago, we formulated a new strategy named ‘We transform society with business,’ emphasizing the dual significance of business as a subject and in collaboration with the business sector. Central to this strategy are the ‘Nordic Nine’, nine transformative capabilities that extend beyond traditional business skills. These capabilities empower our students to assume broader responsibilities and play a key role in societal transformation upon graduating from CBS. Essentially, it serves as a life handbook, fostering competitiveness in business while nurturing compassion in society. The ‘Nordic Nine’ draws inspiration from Nordic values such as openness, trust, and equality.

We embarked on this significant transformation to ensure that these capabilities are incorporated into all our programs. Regardless of the field of study — finance, communication, or psychology — students are expected to develop these transformational capabilities as part of their journey at CBS.

On the research front, our approach involves delving into substantial questions and not merely focusing on publishing in top-tier journals, although we still emphasize the latter. We encourage our faculty to tackle questions without pre-existing answers, necessitating collaboration with diverse scientific disciplines. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial when addressing complex issues like the green transition or the digital transformation. While the academic publication venue may vary, stepping into the arena of societal challenges remains a priority.

A topic close to my heart and instrumental in my move to Deloitte is lifelong learning — a central tenet of our strategy. Recognizing the evolving nature of work due to technological advancements and longer careers, we advocate for a shift from the current front-loaded education system. Instead of a rigid structure where learning occurs primarily in the early years, we aim to embrace learning throughout an individual’s life. This concept extends beyond lifelong education, encompassing personal development and active citizenship. In the pilot phase, we are working with the outside world to develop a lifelong learning journey throughout life, exploring various activities to make this vision a reality.

Previously, we determined what, when, where, and how to teach. All of this will be challenged when discussing lifelong learning. It is no longer feasible to just specify teaching hours from eight to 10 when we have to accommodate people’s schedules. This challenges the modality we have traditionally employed. To me, lifelong learning represents a long-term project and we must navigate this transformation collaboratively with society.


What is your perspective on the Danish higher education system? How is the government collaborating with you to enhance output quality, and what key factors are currently shaping the industry?

Looking back 20 to 30 years, higher education in Denmark constituted a small share of the public budget. In the last three to four decades, there has been significant growth in university enrollment and an accompanying expansion of the public budget allocated to universities. This has led to increased political interest in university affairs, contrasting with the relative autonomy universities enjoyed three to four decades ago.

Denmark boasts eight publicly funded universities, and the past decade and a half has witnessed various reforms and interventions driven by political interest. Three primary areas of focus have emerged. Firstly, attention has been directed towards enhancing the employability of graduates. Adjustments have been initiated to address high unemployment rates in specific programs, particularly within the humanities.

Secondly, incentives and structures have been put in place to get students faster through the system and earlier into the labor market.

A third focal point has been regional balance within Denmark, acknowledging the urban-rural divide akin to that in the US. While the Danish context features a smaller scale of this divide, efforts have been made to decentralize education and opportunities beyond major cities like Copenhagen and Aarhus.

In sum, the Danish higher education landscape has evolved significantly, with increased political scrutiny and interventions addressing employability, labor supply and regional balance. However, a challenge remains in balancing program distribution to cater to demand and needs outside major urban centers.


BF: Do you offer satellite classes?

At CBS, we operate solely from this campus, covering a few square kilometers. CBS maintains a single-campus structure, unlike some universities with campuses in multiple cities, such as the University of Southern Denmark, where I previously served as Dean. However, we are exploring collaborative efforts with university colleges in smaller cities. Instead of establishing satellite campuses, our approach involves forming partnerships to assist these institutions in offering stronger and more attractive programs.


How are you advancing your global reputation and collaborating with international partners? How does this contribute to the enhancement of your research and education offerings?

This university holds a very high international standing, with a dedicated focus on internationalization for over 20 years. We have concentrated on three key dimensions: Our research, which is globally oriented, with scholars collaborating and publishing internationally in the best journals. International faculty recruitment, with international faculty currently exceeding 50%; and student diversity, with 25% international student enrollment, including nearly 3,700 full-degree international students as well as 943 outgoing and 915 incoming exchange students.

To support our diverse international student community, we have diligently fostered numerous exchange agreements with universities worldwide, boasting partnerships with 41 US schools. This collaborative approach significantly contributes to CBS’s global recognition and enriches our research and education offerings.


What percentage of your students come from the US?

We host both exchange students and full-degree students from the US. However, tuition fees apply to full-degree students from outside the EU. EU students, on the other hand, enjoy free tuition; some even qualify for government stipends. This, of course, adds to making studying in Denmark popular on top of the quality of our programs. While US students pursuing a full degree incur tuition costs, itis notably less expensive than tuition fees at US business schools.


How are you integrating the latest technologies into your curricula and ensuring that graduates have the skill sets needed in a fast-evolving tech business environment?

We acknowledge the impossibility of teaching all the details of the latest technologies, particularly in fields like AI, where developments are swift. Actually, we do not see it as our main role.

Instead, CBS focuses on providing students with deep business skills as well as the technical literacy to collaborate with the technical experts. Furthermore, the ‘Nordic Nine’, emphasize the importance of relearning. Graduates need to be able to adapt to new technologies post-graduation, even if these technologies were not part of their curriculum.

We also take a holistic approach to technology in business. Emphasizing responsible tech use is thus crucial. Students must be aware of potential pitfalls, privacy issues, and ethical considerations associated with tech innovation. A notable initiative in this area is the Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Digital Management program, led by Professor Mikkel Flyverbom. It provides students with an understanding of the opportunities, challenges, and ethical considerations of new technologies.


Addressing AI specifically, we have established an advisory board and have developed recommendations for its use in the classroom. We have thus recently allowed for the use of AI in thesis work at CBS, implementing rules for usage and referencing.


Researchers at CBS leverage AI as both a tool and a subject of study. The Department of Digitalization and the Center of Excellence for Big Data in Finance, led by Professor Lasse Heje Pedersen, exemplify our commitment to technology-focused research. With the world’s most extensive financial data integration, the centre revolutionizes data science and computer power, offering unparalleled insights.


The government recently moved to add more seats for international students, and you have 300 partners in over 50 markets, including a funding agreement through the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program for American students. How are you aiming to strengthen partnerships with American counterparts and attract more American students?

Currently, we have 41 agreements with American schools, primarily focusing on exchange programs. Constantly seeking new partnerships in the US, we aim to identify relevant schools for our students. Another collaboration facet involves attracting American students to enroll as full-degree students in our international programs, which are all taught in English. With government support for expanding seats in these programs, we anticipate an even more international environment in the coming years and hope to welcome more American students, even though they incur modest tuition fees.


What are the critical areas of study in the CBS community compared to a standard business school?

CBS offers a comprehensive range of subjects, covering standard business fields like finance and marketing. However, our uniqueness lies in our very broad offerings, encompassing business from a societal angle, specifically emphasizing sustainability and the green transition. Additionally, we provide interdisciplinary programs, such as business and psychology, also collaborating with sciences beyond the traditional business realm. Positioned as one of the broadest business schools globally, we explicitly aim to attract students with diverse interests by offering a wide array of course possibilities.


Tell us about the MBA program you hold here and its allure for international students.

CBS is the sole business school in Scandinavia, offering a full-time MBA program. With a relatively small cohort of 40-50 students annually, it predominantly attracts international students, including a notable number from the US. This program operates on a tuition-based model. In addition, we offer an executive MBA catering to industry executives, primarily from Denmark. Furthermore, our specialized Blue MBA, concentrating on shipping and logistics, addresses a significant demand in the Danish context.


How many spots are available for international students in your programs?

Typically, we offer approximately 50 places in the full-time MBA program. This limited capacity enhances exclusivity and fosters close connections with Danish companies. We aim to link students with these companies, and many choose to build their careers in Denmark following the program. This exclusivity distinguishes the MBA opportunity from our other programs.

In addition to the MBA program, international students can enroll in both our three-year BSc programs and our two-year MSc programs, where a number of these are taught in English.


What are the primary ambitions for CBS moving forward, and how would you like to reflect on key accomplishments before your departure?

Our ambition is succinctly captured in the tagline of our strategy: to transform society with business – both through the transformative capabilities of our graduates and through excellent research that adress society’s major challenges and opportunities through extensive collaboration with external stakeholders. The demand from incoming students reflects a desire for more than just traditional business skills; they seek the ability to make a meaningful difference. When I hear about their ambitions, I am reminded of the importance of equipping them with the ‘Nordic Nine’, empowering them to go out and effect positive change. This, I believe, is our main impact on society.


Is there a final message you wish to convey to USA Today readers?

For potential students from the US, we extend an invitation to an enriching student experience within CBS and Denmark. The historical ties between the US and Denmark also provide a strong connection, with many people having emigrated from Denmark to the US historically.

As I engage globally, I sense an expectation that the Nordic countries, including Denmark, have something unique to offer in addressing the major societal challenges. The Nordic approach to trust and collaboration is distinctive. Students arriving here often discover a remarkably flat hierarchy, fostering open communication and innovative collaboration — a valuable experience for addressing complex issues, be they geopolitical or environmental. I believe that we can provide something unique in preparing individuals to collaborate on shared agendas.





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