Opinions Internationalization

Catherine De Vries: “We Want to Be a Global Village”

, by Andrea Costa
Our Dean for International Affairs talks about Bocconi’s goals and the challenges of doing her job in an increasingly unpredictable world

To begin with, could you tell us about the changes you've seen in the student community at Bocconi?

Over the past few years, we've seen a notable shift in our student demographics. More and more students are coming from troubled areas around the world, and we even have some refugee students now. This demographic shift brings both unique challenges and tremendous opportunities for our community.

How do these changes impact the university, and how do you address them?

The impact is profound. It's essential to understand that creating a truly international community isn't just about increasing the number of foreign students. We need to foster genuine interaction and integration among students from diverse backgrounds. This means providing support for incoming students, creating inclusive policies, and promoting cultural exchange. Our ultimate goal is to prepare all our students for a globalized world, which requires more than just academic knowledge—it demands cultural competence and empathy.

How does this preparation align with your broader vision for the university?

Increasing diversity within our student body is a strategic approach to building resilience. We would like to significantly increase our intake from middle-income countries, which also have more young people than wealthier nations. This not only diversifies our community but also injects vibrant, dynamic energy into our academic and social environment. Besides, broadening our horizons by admitting students from many different regions of the world is also a way of hedging against geopolitical risks.

It sounds like a comprehensive approach. How do you balance the need to consolidate what you have with the drive to develop further?

It’s indeed a delicate balance. We must consolidate our existing strengths while continuously striving to reach new heights. Our vision is for the university to be seen as a “global village”, where students from all corners of the world feel welcome and valued. This means maintaining our high standards and reputation while also innovating and expanding our initiatives to meet the needs of our diverse student body. And we must do it in style: studying at Bocconi has to be a unique experience, no matter if you spend here a semester or your entire academic life.

Creating such an inclusive environment must be a complex task. How do you ensure that Bocconi is a welcoming place for all students?

Making the university welcoming is a collective responsibility. While it’s a significant part of my role, it requires the effort and commitment of the entire community. Everyone of us, from faculty and staff to current students, must contribute to this effort. We strive to ensure that all voices are heard and respected, and that every student feels they belong here. This involves creating supportive networks and celebrating diversity.

What is the hardest part of your job?

As the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, facing risk and uncertainty is a significant part of my role. This includes not only operational risks but also ensuring that Bocconi students, whether here or abroad, are always safe. However, things may change suddenly. A place that can be considered reasonably peaceful today may become a disaster area tomorrow. I’d say that managing these events is definitely the most stressful part of my job. But we have never failed to help those who needed support.

That sounds like a huge responsibility. Can you share more about how you and your team manage these challenges?

I am fortunate to work with a highly dedicated International Relations team. We work together closely, and sometimes it feels like I am managing a ministry of foreign affairs within the university, coordinating such a wide array of international initiatives and relations. Effective collaboration and clear communication are key. We all share a deep commitment to our goals. We also engage with our international partners and stay informed about global trends and developments. This proactive approach allows us to anticipate challenges and adapt quickly.

It’s an ongoing journey, and we are excited about the future and the opportunities it holds for our students and our university. We believe that by fostering an inclusive and diverse environment, we are not only enriching the lives of our students but also contributing to a more understanding and connected world.