When you think about exporting, the first thing that comes to mind is probably large container ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. But LCI Education, a network of fashion-design and hotel management institutions, has nothing to do with container ships. What they export is more unusual: academics.
Founded in Montreal in 1959 by Jean-Paul Morin, it is only after 30 years that LaSalle College opens its first international campus in Casablanca, Morocco. After finding success in that fashion forward market, they began expanding by opening new campuses in Turkey, Colombia, Indonesia, and Tunisia throughout the 1990’s. With increased demand for their expertise and programming, the network opened a second wave of satellite campuses in the 2000’s.
“We had a vision of being the biggest school of fashion design in the world,” says Claude Marchand, President and CEO of the LCI Education Network. “And we couldn’t be that without being present in Europe. That’s what led us to make our first acquisition of the oldest fashion school in Barcelona: FP Moda.” The second and most recent acquisition in Melbourne, Australia reinforces their presence in the Asia-Pacific region and in five continents.
With thousands of students spread out in 12 countries, in 22 campuses, and with a choice of more than 60 programs, LCI Education Network is close to realizing its goal. They have now created one of the vastest academic networks in the world.
Quality over content
As a sector that is highly regulated, exporting education is a challenging endeavour. Every time LCI Education opens a new campus, the local culture must be taken into consideration and integrated into their curriculums.
“Adapting our programs to the requirements of local ministries of education to ensure that students get a locally approved diploma is our biggest challenge,” says Marchand. With that, keeping a system consistent from Bogota, to Istanbul, to Jakarta cannot be an easy task.
“The base of each program is replicated from the Montreal model and then tweaked according to the realities of local job markets and government regulations,” says Marchand. “But ultimately, the LCI network is not about uniformity of content. We strive to harmonize quality assurance with the implementation of local practices in order to achieve academic excellence no matter where we are.”
Realizing that a business plan built around education must seem unusual to most, M. Marchand compares it to the aviation industry: “What really matters is not the leather or fabric upholstery of the seats; it’s whether the planes have safety mechanisms.”
A network of opportunities
The success of an academic institution depends on confidence and reputation. And that takes time to build.
“The challenge with opening so many schools abroad is that we basically need to rebuild a new reputation each time,” says Marchand. “Even if we are well known in the Canadian market, we are always new in the foreign market we are establishing ourselves in. It’s hard to start from scratch every time.”
But the perseverance has been worth it. Through decentralization, LCI Education has created a network that offers infinite opportunities for students.
“Students have the choice between vocational, pre-university, and university degrees in different regions of the world, allowing for inter-network mobility,” says Marchand. “Our Barcelona campus is also part of the ERASMUS program, allowing for external network opportunities in Europe. There are so many combinations possible, there is something for everyone.”
This decentralized business model is what has led to a network actively growing into a community of 12 thousand students currently enrolled in LCI Education institutions, 17 hundred employees, and an incalculable number of graduates spread out in all corners of the world. So while unusual, exporting Canadian education has been a success for the LCI Education Network.