Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

SA business schools can help repel the colonialist attitudes displayed by the likes of disgraced UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger, says Jon Foster-Pedley, dean of Henley Business School in Johannesburg.

Bell Pottinger, which stoked SA racial tensions in exchange for 30 pieces of silver from a Gupta-linked company, would not dare behave like that in a Western market, says Foster-Pedley. "But this is Africa. What they have done suggests they see people here as inferior; that what happens to them because of the firm’s activities matters less than it would in other countries."

In fact, he says, SA is anything but second class. Henley in SA is responsible for more than half the MBA graduates produced globally by the Henley network, including its UK base. Students at every Henley campus follow the same programme and write the same exams, which are marked by the same examiners.

"We can prove to people in Europe that the business, sporting and academic talent we have in this country is world class," says Foster-Pedley. "MBAs are only the tip of the iceberg."

Henley is not alone in raising the bar. Nearly half of SA’s MBA programmes are now internationally accredited by the London-based Association of MBAs.

Half the remainder are in the process of following suit.

Institutions such as the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) and the university business schools at Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Wits, have been sought-after partners for leading international schools for years. Now others are enjoying the benefits.

Rhodes Business School director Owen Skae says: "I have nonstop invitations to partner schools in India, the Netherlands, China, Brazil, Russia ... you name it. Mainly they want collaborative research and exchange programmes involving faculty and students. But we can’t be partners with everyone."

Private schools such as Regenesys, the Management College of Southern Africa and Regent also report increased interest from beyond SA.

There have been hiccups. Segran Nair, MBA head at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), says #FeesMustFall protests at SA universities have given some foreign students pause before studying here. "People taking a year off to travel to SA for a full-time MBA see these violent images on TV and naturally wonder if they will graduate and get their degree," he says. "We have to explain to them the distinction between us and the main university campus, which is where the protests took place."

There are signs, within the country too, that traditionally "junior" schools are making accelerated headway. In the early years of Ranking the MBAs, the "big four" schools enjoyed a healthy reputational lead over the rest of the field. That is not the case any longer.

Among employers, Gibs remains top dog for both its MBA and overall activities. Stellenbosch and Wits follow in both leagues but, for the first time, Cape Town’s GSB has been overtaken in the MBA reputational stakes by Henley and Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership, both of which have been making steady progress in recent years. Unisa offers both an MBA and an MBL — business administration and business leadership. Director Renosi Mokate says: "Though the two [degrees] are governed by the same rules and are provided at the same academic level, they have a different emphasis and some students have a clear preference for one over the other."

Among graduates, Wits Business School is the main loser. Graduates from all schools were asked which business school they would have chosen for their MBA if cost and location were not an issue. Gibs, Cape Town and Stellenbosch led the way, but Wits was overtaken by Henley.

Wits remains an excellent school, but years of management challenges have punctured its aura. Its last full-time director, Steve Bluen, resigned a few months ago. Though former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has been appointed interim head, the school needs to show sustained leadership stability.

Despite many graduates’ retrospective wish that they’d gone to another school, most were content with what they found at their actual place of study. As we’ve observed before, students at newer schools generally declared themselves just as satisfied with their MBA education as those at storied institutions.

What happens to your salary after an MBA

That’s probably because, in line with the trend of past
years, many students no longer see their MBA as the key to fame and fortune, but as the basis for business education and career progress.

That doesn’t mean fortune is completely absent. As the salary-band table (Payback) shows, MBA graduates earn considerably more after graduation. But they shouldn’t expect instant gratification; it’s up to five years since some of our graduate respondents embarked on MBA studies, so it takes time to reach new earning heights.

In this context, it’s worth considering return on investment. Most of the schools whose graduates are now at the upper end of the salary scale are those with the highest MBA costs. Programme fees range from R71,000-R250,000 for SA students, and nearly R300,000 for foreign students.

For that, there is a wide array of study options. Only five SA schools offer full-time MBAs.

Those students who can’t afford to give up work for a year can choose from part-time and mixed options ranging from weekend and evening study, to block-release programmes and completely online tuition.

This assumes, of course, that applicants meet schools’ entry standards. Schools may reserve up to 10% of places for individuals, predominantly black, without the requisite academic qualifications but with the management experience necessary to handle an MBA programme.

Otherwise, as explained on other pages, the minimum requirement is an honours-equivalent degree.

Even that may not suffice. All students are expected to have management experience, and they may also have to undergo interviews, submit essays, face psychometric testing and even sit the international Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, to prove they possess all the qualities required to survive an MBA.

While the degree is shedding its "marriage-breaker" reputation, the study requirements can have a damaging effect on family and personal relationships. Research shows older students handle this stress better.

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