Picture: 123RF/Chaiyawat Sripimonwan
Picture: 123RF/Chaiyawat Sripimonwan

Inquiries about MBA bursaries and scholarships have been “coming thick and fast”, says Segran Nair, head of the MBA programme at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB).

Many students could once have counted on employers to pay all or part of their fees. Now, because of Covid-19, some companies are reining in discretionary spending, including education. A few students, both intending and current, no longer have an employer, after losing their jobs since the pandemic began. For them, the need to find other ways to fund their studies is even more urgent.

At the other end of the scale, some people have too many jobs. Nair says: “One student told me that because of cost-cutting at his company, he was now required to do three jobs. He had no time to study. We’ve had other cases where employers told staff they could no longer take time off for their MBA block-release sessions.”

The pandemic has forced GSB, like other business schools, to face problems it could previously not have imagined. Nair says: “Covid has tested us over and over again. If you can survive this, you can survive anything.”

Some students have taken time off to deal with personal issues. But he says: “Despite being at breaking point, they have managed. One way or another, all our students will cross the finish line.”

Now GSB has to get the next set of students to the starting line. Applications for 2021 are looking good but the intake is likely to be short on the foreign contingent that gives the GSB MBA programme its particular flavour. All SA business schools attract students from the rest of Africa but GSB’s position in a global tourist destination makes it attractive to students from further afield, such as Europe, North America and Asia.

International travel restrictions may deter some potential students. Nair says the school has received applications from Germany and the US, among others, but is waiting to see what the travel rules will be in 2021. It may be necessary to start programmes online, then welcome students physically later. “We are providing for a number of scenarios,” he says.

Students aren’t the only ones stressed. “Some of our academics were very anxious initially about teaching online,” says Nair. “They are very good classroom teachers. But online? That’s another matter. We tried to prepare them but this is something you learn as you go along.

“As a school, we pride ourselves on our face-to-face teaching but now we know we also have the skills to do it in a virtual environment.”

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