Picture: 123RF/Aleksandr Davydov
Picture: 123RF/Aleksandr Davydov

North-West University (NWU) Business School is taking another step towards greater autonomy after regaining responsibility for executive education.

Acting director Jan van Romburgh says the status of the school’s director will be elevated to that of chief director, one step below dean. Though the school is not a faculty, “we will be virtually independent financially and in terms of management”, he says.

Before resigning at the end of last year to set up a business school in Durban, former director Fulu Netswera bemoaned the university’s decision to take over management of executive education programmes. That decision has been reversed. “Executive education is back with us,” confirms Van Romburgh.

Now there’s the small matter of finding someone to lead this regeneration. The selection process for a chief director is under way and Van Romburgh says he is among the applicants.

The school’s main campus is in Potchefstroom. In 2014, Potchefstroom Business School, as it was then, became the first SA school outside the traditional “elite” to win international accreditation for its MBA programme from the UK-based Association of MBAs, known as Amba. Following the school’s merger with NWU’s Mafikeng school, accreditation was extended to the NWU school as a whole.

Mafikeng, which caters mainly for the public sector, has experienced a drop in MBA enrolments this year as government departments have cut back on spending. Potshefstroom gets most of its students from the private sector and has maintained numbers. “We have been pretty stable,” says lecturer and operations manager Johan Jordaan. “I don’t expect a big drop in 2021 enrolments.” To be on the safe side, he says the school has embarked on a “full-blown” marketing campaign.

Its platteland location, far from a major city, has allowed the NWU school, particularly its Potchefstroom arm, to escape some of the Covid-19 ravages suffered by urban schools. It’s also been a good year for the region’s agricultural sector, and a major pharmaceutical company recently made a significant bursary investment.

Jordaan says: “We’re getting students from industries that are booming. With our demographic profile, we don’t compete with a school in the middle of Sandton. Covid has accentuated that. Competition is tough. We must emphasise what makes us different.”

One of those differences is its location in a poor province. The school’s small business advisory bureau, created in 1970, claims to be the oldest and largest tertiary small business institute in southern Africa. Its aim is to help small, medium and micro-enterprises to become established and grow.

As an extension of this, the school this year embarked on an investigation of North-West township entrepreneurs. A report by academic Ronnie Lotriet found that would-be SA entrepreneurs in the province’s villages, townships and “small dorpies” are being outsmarted by better-prepared foreign nationals from Asia and the rest of Africa.

“There is no skills transfer or knock-on benefit for locals,” says Lotriet. “We need further analysis to see the full extent of the problem but, from what we have observed, there’s need for a practical programme to teach basic skills. Mention “price mark-ups” to people there and most don’t know what you mean. We ask them if they think they will be employing others in three years’ time, and they say no. There’s no thought of the future. We have to find a solution.”​

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