The new frontier for international business schools

The risk of not being part of Africa’s fast-growing business opportunities is pushing business schools in Western Europe and the United States to start expanding onto a continent that is emerging as a force in the global economic enterprise.

According to Felix Ndeloa, director of advisory services at Radius – a United Kingdom-based international consulting firm – Africa is offering some of the world’s lucrative business opportunities and doing business there has also become easier.

“Financial pressures and competition in more established markets are also driving business schools to consider Africa as the new frontier of choice,” Ndeloa told University World News.

Opening campuses in Africa

Radius has assisted more than 10 foreign universities to open campuses in Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya and South Africa. “Most recently, we helped Godwin College at East Hartford in Connecticut and the University of Utah to set up academic operations in Ghana,” Ndeloa said.

Commenting on strategic models that foreign universities are using in making inroads into African countries, Ndeloa noted that some universities preferred opening new campuses while others chose to establish partnerships with local universities.

“Quite often, some foreign universities find partnerships with local private universities easier to navigate than with public universities,” said Ndeloa.

The choice of approach is generally dependent on the nature of the programme envisaged in a particular country. For instance, the University of Utah has established partnerships with several African universities and plans are underway to hold those partnerships together.

“Our strategy is to have a regional presence with our extended campus in Ghana serving as a hub from which we will be able to connect to those other institutions in the region,” says Professor Stephen Alder, president of the senate at the University of Utah.

Business schools join the tide

Many foreign business schools and universities are keen to take advantage of Africa’s expanding market for quality higher education. Some leading business schools, including members of the Global Business School Network or GBSN, have been positioning themselves to remain globally competitive.

Dedicated to strengthening the next generation of skilled managers in low-income countries, especially in Africa, GBSN – under the Management Education and Research Consortium – has been working closely with members of the Association of African Business Schools to identify talent and to provide students with business and management practical training.

Towards this goal, the non-profit William Davidson Institute of the University of Michigan is currently working with the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali, Rwanda, while Columbia Business School is working with the Nairobi-based United States International University Africa and the University of Dar es Salaam.

Brown University is working with the graduate business school at the University of Cape Town, and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is teaming up with the American University in Cairo.

Demands of transnational business

Global transnational business enterprise backed by major companies is fuelling the pressure to train efficient business managers.

According to Diana Layfield, Standard Chartered Bank Limited chief executive officer for Africa, investment in Africa is compelling because the returns are among the highest in the world while the risks are diminishing.

“But in order to reap those benefits, you must critically train, as the best in the market can be transformational,” Layfield wrote in a commentary titled “Seeking the opportunity, managing the risk” in Ernst & Young’s Africa’s attractiveness survey, Getting Down to Business.

The crux of the matter is that for investors in Africa, quality business management education will help companies to thrive and extend their reach. “The growth opportunities in Africa are increasingly evident as by 2035 the continent will have the world’s largest workforce, with over half of the population currently under the age of 20,” said Layfield.

According to Dr George Njenga, dean of Strathmore Business School in Kenya, the need for quality business and management education in Africa is not only about business opportunities – it is also about improving the quality of institutions that currently lack management capability.

The problem is that quality business and management education is too patchy, taking into account that most business schools and business and commerce faculties in local universities lack highly qualified staff, and their learning materials and teaching methods are outdated.

Statistics from the African Management Initiative, or AMI – an organisation that is backed by the GBSN and other stakeholders in developing business managers on the continent – Africa is home to only 1.4% of internationally recognised business schools.

“This means that there is only one business school for every 11.2 million Africans,” says AMI in a study, Catalyzing Management Development in Africa: Identifying areas for impact.

Felix Ndeloa noted that the scarcity of quality business schools seemed to be another attracting magnet for foreign business schools entering Africa.

Whereas about 950 business schools globally are accredited by three globally recognised bodies – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Association of MBAs and European Foundation for Management Development – last year only 13 were in Africa.

“Some of those African institutions had acquired recognition through their loose arrangements with foreign business schools since accreditation is a lengthy process,” said Ndeloa.

Africa is believed to have around 100 business schools and universities offering Masters of Business Administration or MBA degrees and executive education. This is too few compared, for instance, to India with more than 1,500 institutions offering MBAs.

“Assuming that each African business school graduates 500 across MBA and executive education programmes per year, it would take 22 years to train the one million managers who would be needed to drive the continent’s economy to the next phase,” says AMI in its report.

An academic ‘colonial frontier’?

Amid managerial training gaps in most African countries, the AMI is worried that an academic ‘colonial frontier’ is opening up in Africa, with the vigorous influx of foreign business schools into the African education market.

“The entry of foreign business schools could represent the biggest threat to established African business schools, particularly in the competition to get a share of the lucrative executive education market,” the AMI says.

Such sentiments were also expressed by Mumbi Maria, a doctoral researcher at St Gallen University in Switzerland, who noted how the benefits of unmet demand for quality business education in Africa are being shared among foreign business schools.

“The partition is on and if Africa’s business schools do not seize the opportunity in their countries, others will,” Maria, who is also a researcher at Strathmore University, told University World News.

In addition to approaches identified by Ndeloa, Maria pointed out that ad hoc executive education courses were being offered by foreign business schools in most countries in Africa, as well as franchise models whereby foreign universities certify their courses taught in local universities.

“It is a system where a foreign business school decides to become an academic passenger with its courses being taught by staff from local universities but profits are shared,” said Maria.

Some foreign business schools have embarked on providing distance learning programmes, specifically for African students, often supported by local training providers.

As competition rages for a slice of Africa’s highly in-demand higher education market, contenders are increasingly facing faculty shortages, often occasioned by shortages of academics with PhDs and experienced managers willing to teach.

Probably the best option would be for universities, industry and African governments to invest in regional hubs of business education excellence on the continent.

But with more and more interest among international universities in meeting Africa’s growing demand for quality business education, they may find the market segment already taken.