Nicola Kleyn. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

Nicola Kleyn. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

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FM Edition:

Toyota SA has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) to develop a new business school to be built near Umhlanga, north of Durban.

The project is subject to approval by the company’s Japanese parent but, if approved, its qualifications will include an MBA in manufacturing.

Planners hope the school will open in 2018 and though the company, which has a vehicle assembly plant south of Durban, is expected to provide many of the students, places will be available to other firms, including automotive competitors.

Gibs dean Nicola Kleyn says the school has been asked to prepare core MBA courses and the postgraduate diplomas (PGDip) required to bridge the gap between bachelor’s and master’s study.

Academic and motor industry consultant Justin Barnes, one of the key thinkers behind government’s Automotive Production & Development Programme (APDP), has been asked to prepare specialist manufacturing courses.

Besides MBAs and PGDips, planners want the school to offer other manufacturing-based education. MBA intakes are likely to include students from other African countries, like Nigeria and Algeria, with their own motor industries.

The development is disappointing for the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Graduate School of Business & Leadership. Despite being the local school with its own SA-accredited MBA (and also hoping, coincidentally, to have its own campus in Umhlanga), it was not considered for the project. Sources say Gibs, Stellenbosch University Business School, Wits Business School and Cape Town University’s Graduate School of Business were invited to tender for the project. "We took advice that we needed to deal with schools with international accreditation," says one.

The four are traditionally accorded a certain status because of their history, international reputations and resources, but they are not the only ones with global clout.

If everything goes to plan, more than half of SA’s schools will soon have their MBA programmes accredited internationally by the UK-based Association of MBAs (Amba).

The university schools at Rhodes and North-West have already won approval and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) hopes to join them soon. Henley SA has accreditation through its UK parent and the Regenesys, Milpark and Free State University schools all say they are at various stages of the process.

Even previously fierce opponents of international accreditation are softening their stance. An academic who previously criticised SA schools for subjecting themselves to foreign standards says that discussions with Amba have removed some of his objections.

Three or four years ago, lack of international accreditation didn’t matter much. Only a handful of schools had it. Now, with so many making the move, there are risks in being potentially one of only two or three schools without an international stamp.

Market research for Ranking the MBAs shows it matters to potential students, who want a qualification that not only impresses local employers but also makes them marketable elsewhere. Nearly 40% of graduates taking part in our research say international recognition played a part in their choice of where to study.

That’s slightly less than those (41%) who say price is a key factor. Given SA’s economic situation and the pressures on disposable income, perhaps it’s no surprise the percentage of fee-sensitive individuals has doubled in two years.

One of the key findings of the research, since it started in 2000, is how market perceptions of schools differ. Most employers still retain old perceptions of schools. Graduates’ perspectives are very different.

So when we asked employers which schools they considered had the best overall reputation, Gibs and Wits were tied first, with 22% each. Wits, after nearly a decade of internal turmoil, is the comeback kid, having been down at 12% only three years ago. Cape Town’s GSB has gone in the opposite direction, from 23% to 13%, while Stellenbosch is a model of consistency within the 13%-15% band. Wits also holds its own when employers name their best MBA/MBL programme: Gibs, Wits, Stellenbosch and Cape Town, in that order, are within six percentage points of each other, with Unisa and Henley hot on their heels.

But there’s a very different pecking order among graduates, one which is more likely to reflect the education wishes of intending students. Graduates were asked what would have been their first-choice MBA school if cost and location were not an issue. Gibs was top with 29%, Cape Town second on 22%, then a gap to Stellenbosch, before Wits comes in just ahead of Henley and the "crowd". Gibs is particularly popular among women: 34% make it their first prize.

Despite the preferences, graduates seem content with what they found at the business school they attended. In terms of course content, educational outcomes and their MBA experience, there are not big scoring gaps between graduates of different schools.

Employers, many of whom sponsor MBA students, have a different take to graduates on the outcome of MBAs. Graduates believe they come out ethically improved. Employers, who see the results in the workplace, don’t. Graduates tend to have an inflated view of their pecuniary value to employers.

Helena van Zyl, dean of the Free State University Business School, says: "Employers and graduates have different expectations regarding the outcomes of an MBA. One of the most important differences is remuneration." Graduates expect more money. If the responses of our employer sample — 56% say they don’t offer salary premiums to MBAs — reflect the full picture, graduates are in for a rude awakening.

And what of the schools themselves? Our research shows that some perennial classroom challenges just won’t go away.

Every business school dreams (publicly, at least) of hiring more black academics. But of the 391 full-time teaching faculty at our participating business schools, only 114 are black South Africans. Another 36 from other African countries redresses the balance slightly but, try as they might, schools are finding it difficult to get the numbers they want. There’s continuous talk of developing a generation of black SA academics — particularly as black South Africans make up more than 50% of the total SA MBA student body — but it hasn’t happened yet.

Women are also still in the minority, though not to the same extent, and account for just over 40% of both the student body and the full-time teaching faculty.

Many of the tables accompanying this article require no explanation: they compare costs, explain what is available and where to find it, and provide a snapshot of student expectations against eventual reality.

One statistic, however, is cause for reflection. SA business schools have 251 formal agreements with schools in other countries — but only 31 of those are in Africa. The US alone, with 40, attracts more SA interest than the whole of Africa.

These agreements may include lecturer and student exchanges, academic and research collaboration, joint programmes and study tours.

Africa is not well-stocked with fully fledged business schools, so collaborative options are limited. And in an era of globalisation, SA schools need to expose their students to international best practices. But 31 out of 251? Try harder!