“Sup de Cons,” the cartoon that takes on business schools

A graduate of Grenoble business school, Zeil (it’s a pseudonym) taught for several years in a “Sup de Co” in western France. He publishes on Thursday, May 4, at La Difference editions, a caustic cartoon to denounce the excesses of certain institutions: Sup de Cons, the black book of commercial schools. He explained to us what made him want to publish this book and why it should be of interest to both past and future business school students.

LES ECHO’S START: Your comic is called “Sup de Cons”, that’s a pretty fierce title, isn’t it?

By this title I do not mean that business school students are idiots, quite the contrary! I want to condemn the fact that certain schools “take them for idiots”. In fact, I was shocked by the commercial and not very academic aspect of Sup de Co, which I worked for for five years before returning to teach in North America.

The ESC world has become hyper-competitive because there are now fewer students who want to go to Sup de Co than there are places. To recruit new students, some schools will do anything, even cut corners ethically. Making this comic was a way to get rid of this disappointment for me…

What kind of shortcuts?

To be taught by teachers who only speak broken English because it looks better on the board to be taught in English than in French. Or offer the students a new tablet, which they actually pay for in their tuition fees, and which are not actually used by the teachers for teaching. Or even recruiting foreign students who don’t have the level to fill the promotions… And this is just an example! The problem is not limited to a single Sup de Co, far from it.

When you read his comics, you may have the impression that it is some kind of “mafia” system, of which the students are the first victims…

“Mafia” is a bit strong, but it is certain that the accreditation system brings a lot of money to some international organizations that pay for audits of companies.

For mid-level business schools, there is a panic about not surviving in a highly competitive environment. And the difference between a school that survives and another that declines often depends on whether it achieves these accreditations (AACSB, EQUIS, AMBA, etc.).

The problem is that this accreditation system is designed for large universities or schools with criteria such as the number of published research papers. The largest institutions can afford to recruit many teacher-researchers who will only teach in their field of research where they excel.

For the other, more modest schools, the system has been misled… And you will have teacher-researchers very specialized in e.g. digital marketing, which finds itself in providing basic 1st year courses in consumer behaviour. Result of the races: The system does not reward the good teachers, but the researchers, with direct consequences for the quality of the courses! In short, everyone loses.

But few before you have dared to criticize this reality, why?

I think there are several reasons. For the teachers, first of all, we understand how complicated it is to criticize your current or future employer… I am not going to come back to France at the moment so I could be more free.

On the student’s side, it is also quite normal to defend one’s diploma… Given the investment to get it, criticizing it would be a bit like criticizing oneself. Finally, I think there is a certain nostalgia for the former students. Once you graduate, you mostly remember the good times.

So what advice would you give to students who are soon to choose a business school to avoid getting scammed?

To buy my comic already! (Laughs) More seriously, it might be interesting to go and look on LinkedIn to see what the background of former students at the schools that interest you has been. Also pay close attention to the atmosphere that radiates from open days. Are there teachers present to welcome you or just administrative staff? Also, go online to check the information you get: some schools tend to present as already signed prestigious partnerships that are only under discussion…

Finally, during the entrance exams, talk to the students, bearing in mind that they will necessarily want to defend their school, but that through the lines of their speech we can sometimes identify points of tension.

I also think that students need to be involved in their educational journey… It is not your school or your courses that give you all the cards to succeed in your professional life. You have to look for little gold nuggets in your internships or your experiences abroad/associations. Do not hesitate to build bonds with your teachers, especially if they are professionals in the sector, they will certainly have good contacts to get you started.

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