Global rankings highlight African business schools

The recently released Financial Times (FT) Business School Rankings survey has placed the spotlight on African business executive and master of business administration (MBA) qualifications, revealing how the continent is faring internationally.

Now in its 15th year, the FT survey rates the top 70-100 providers globally for their MBA and customised and open executive education programmes by collating data from the course providers, programme participants and corporate clients.

The University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) was the only African university on the Global MBA Ranking 2013 list, scooping position 74. Last year it was ranked 54 after being 60 in 2011, and it holds position 63 on the three-year average.

Duke Corporate Education – an institution represented in the US, South Africa, the UK and India – retained its top position for the ‘Customised Executive Education Programme’, while South Africa’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) was ranked 52 (in 2012 it was 42) and the University of Stellenbosch Business School was number 64. That was one position better than last year, but nine places down on 2011.

The ‘Open Executive Education Programme’ ranked the GIBS in position 43 (up from 47), University of Stellenbosch Business School 56 (62), the Wits Business School 62 (55), and the American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business 70.

Responding to that ranking, AUC Dean Sherif Kamel said continuous improvement was “a journey, not a destination”. The programme was the sole Middle East and North African representative to make the FT list.

“There is always room for cutting-edge techniques to be applied and enhancements to be made...devotion and dedication to continuous improvement led the way to the school’s international accreditation, as well as the rankings that are a confirmation of [our] constant improvement efforts,” Kamel said.

Wendy Ngoma, director of the Wits Business School in Johannesburg, told University World News that the school was honoured to be placed among the top business schools globally and would continue working hard to be a leader in the business education industry.

Interestingly, South African business schools perform better in international rankings than their universities, which suggests that they have been able to raise the funding and high-level human resources essential to being globally rated in this highly competitive field.

Accreditation, rankings help quality assurance

The University of Stellenbosch Business School became Africa's first to secure the triple crown of international accreditations, namely: by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which represents the highest achievement for an educational institution awarding business degrees; by the European Foundation for Management Development, which awards the European Quality Improvement System accreditation; and via accreditation from the Association of MBAs.

Cape Town’s GSB followed suit earlier this month, according to a press release, to make it only one of 59 out of 13,670 business schools globally to be triple-crowned.

GSB Director Walter Baets told University World News that this prestige was "not to be taken lightly", with the accreditation being "extremely valuable" for a business school.

"Although many dismiss them [accreditations] as mere marketing collateral, they are an important investment in the quality of a business school. This has implications not just for GSB, but for business education in South Africa and Africa generally, as we are showing the world that African business schools can be taken seriously," he said.

In a nutshell, the accreditations serve as a quality control mechanism and isolate areas within the business school that need improvement. Specifically, accreditations are tools to improve the education and research delivered by an institution.

Baets said that in recent years the school had recognised that accreditations and international rankings were increasingly important factors for prospective students, especially foreign students, of which GSB had a growing number. Also:

“GSB aims to raise the profile of emerging-market business schools as centres of excellence and thought leadership and to provide local and international students with the skills needed to take on the challenges of this decade's emerging markets,” he said.

Local relevance, international recognition

However, he cautioned that while accreditations gave GSB an important international endorsement and benchmark, they should not detract from the focus of developing African-appropriate business schools.

“We do not want to recreate Harvard in Africa. We need something that goes beyond that to address the specific challenges that Africa has [and] if we use accreditations as a quality improvement exercise, but keep our focus on our own context, we are on the right path," he argued.

Baets added that African business schools must still make improvements to their external strategies, given that there remained "a lot of misunderstandings" about Africa and the role of African business schools.

"It is clear the world does not see Africa's promise. The GSB believes it is the responsibility of all business schools on the continent to change these perceptions by ensuring African business realises its potential, and these accreditations can help us to do this," he said.

In this vein, an executive education short course recently announced jointly by GSB and the World Wildlife Fund South Africa (WWF-SA) was aimed at boosting sustainability leadership in Africa to improve its impact. The One Planet Leaders in Africa Programme would support the development of sustainability leadership competence while feeding into new GSB research.

"By combining the WWF's network of expertise and the GSB's vision of 'business for better', we hope to provide a catalyst to promote sustainable change not just within Africa, but on a global scale,” said Glenda Raven, WWF-SA’s senior manager.

University of Stellenbosch Business School Associate Professor of Development Finance Charles Adjasi said that international business school accreditations and international diversity in the classroom were some of the key deciding factors motivating Africa's future business leaders to study abroad.

He believes that studying abroad and being exposed to international diversity better prepares students to compete in the global economy.

“The ability to perceive, analyse and engage in a problem or case from an international, multi-dimensional view enables one to compete on a global level in more superior terms. International diversity enriches the vibrancy of the learning environment and the learning experience,” he said.

GIBS Dean Nick Binedell said that in the current world environment of complexity, excitement and challenge, the speed and scale of many of the driving forces changing the business and social landscape were "extraordinary".

Consequently GIBS, based in Pretoria and Johannesburg, believes it has a role to play in ensuring business leaders – whether corporate or entrepreneurial – have the opportunity to develop their skills and business acumen.

A GIBS MBA aimed to be a “life-changing experience” by affording students the opportunity to gain knowledge, think critically and challenge assumptions, be exposed to new experiences, and form diverse relationships.

Marietjie Wepener, marketing director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, said that a qualification from an internationally accredited institution was “highly valued” by employers, as the accreditations were quality guarantees.

In the past decade the institution had seen a steady increase in the number of students from other African countries on the MBA programme as well as the masters in philosophy in development finance, or MDevF, programme.

"High volumes of interest from African countries have been particularly evident with the MDevF programme, consisting of more than 60% of students from African countries," she told University World News.

Over the past three years, Wepener said, the school had intensified its marketing efforts in Africa with regular information sessions, alumni association activities and representation of the business school in key territories. She said information sessions would soon be held in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Swaziland.