Through the looking glass: An interview with IEU Rector Salvador Carmona

@IE University

For Carmona, thanks to the “excellent starting point” provided by the IE Business School, IEU is accelerating towards a new canon of higher education.

As Rector of IE University, Salvador Carmona maintains his focus on what makes this innovative institution stand out: top graduate employability, an international student body, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

IE University, which sprang forth from the prestigious IE Business School, is pushing forward rapidly thanks to its unique blend of academic rigor, practical learning, and a multi-disciplinary approach. The finest of balances is sought between the commercial ethos of IE and a commitment to humanities which means that all students – even law and business graduates – study elements of philosophy, literature, and history.

For Carmona, thanks to the “excellent starting point” provided by the IE Business School, IEU is accelerating towards a new canon of higher education.

“We lack the baggage that tends to weigh down more traditional institutions. We’ve been able to create a modern university from the bottom up, using a set of fundamental guidelines: graduate employability and internationalization, a humanistic focus, and an entrepreneurial spirit. And these guiding principles all revolve around the university’s innovative nature,” explains Carmona.

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Carmona, who took up his post in 2011, notes that IE University is already Spain’s number one university in terms of employability, 8th in Europe, and 25th in the world, according to the Times Higher Education Rankings.

“Now we have recognition. But the main thing is not so much what we are doing now as the fact that we are never content with that. It’s a bit like the metaphor in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, where the Red Queen tells Alice that you need to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place. We are running as fast as we can in order to remain in the same place in this fast-changing world, or, with some luck, maybe even get ahead.”

But what, in Carmona’s view, does the globally conscious 21st-century student demand of a top university? “Increasingly, students are looking for a holistic education, rather than highly specialized training. They are looking for a multi-disciplinary program which is flexible enough so that, upon graduation, they can either continue their studies with a master’s degree or else enter the job market directly. And they are also looking for practical, hands-on experience through internships. What this university strives to do is to anticipate the way the next generation is going to think, so that when our graduates go out into the world, they will not be thinking like their own generation, but like the generation that comes after them.”

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IE University’s innovative strength lies in the combination of theory and practice, from classroom techniques which demand a high level of student participation to yearly internship opportunities and the original system of learning laboratories, where fresh ideas interact with real-world problems. Carmona believes the blend of multi-disciplinary learning and one of the world’s highest international student rates creates an experience which is “truly unique.”

“You can find international universities; you can find innovative universities; you can find universities with a humanistic approach, and ones that try to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in their students by making them think outside of the box. But you will not find another university which, like us, brings all of this together in one place.”

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Carmona believes the traditional model of top-down teaching has entered a crisis from which it is unlikely to escape. “Teaching is not a one-way activity in which the teacher imparts knowledge and the student receives it. Students also learn a lot from one another on a wide range of topics that include diversity and gender. We have more female than male students, and more international students than Spaniards. This provides an extraordinary opportunity for students to learn from one another.”

Looking ahead, Carmona says he is working on expansion plans at the university’s two campuses – Madrid and Segovia – as well as developing new undergraduate and graduate courses.

“It is the Rector’s main job to make sure the university keeps moving forward. I consider myself very fortunate to be involved in such a first-rate project.”