Ahmed Shaikh, Regent Business School director. Picture: Jackie Clausen/Sunday Times
Ahmed Shaikh, Regent Business School director. Picture: Jackie Clausen/Sunday Times

Higher education, including MBAs, will undergo a “rebalancing” to meet the needs of a market fundamentally changed by the Covid-19 pandemic, says Regent Business School MD Ahmed Shaikh.

Many employers who previously put the education emphasis on degrees and certificated qualifications will in future be more interested in skills development. They will want employees with practical knowledge, rather than the academic kind. “They will support skills-and standards-based programmes,” he says. “Skills will be more valuable than credentials and qualifications.”

He thinks there could be a shift in the executive education market towards shorter courses with more measurable outcomes. “Enrolment patterns will change. There will be a rebalancing between high-cost programmes and effective ones.”

He says: “I’d like to think progressive business schools will adapt quickly to market needs.”

The MBA won’t be immune. The qualification has taken on a more practical face in recent years after its status was changed from an academic degree to a professional one, preparing students for the business world. Still, Shaikh thinks the Council on Higher Education, which sets MBA rules, may need to revisit the degree.

“The council and other regulators must decide what attributes we require from an MBA,” he says. “I think they will have to engage in discussions with the business school community.”

Covid-19 has challenged “every facet of human relevance”, says Shaikh, and forced business schools to accelerate innovation. “What we had planned to do at Regent by 2025 we have been forced to do now,” he says. “The lockdown has given us confidence to do new things.”

He hopes it will have a similar impact on SA’s community of would-be entrepreneurs, after seeing thousands of small and medium companies collapse during the past seven months.

“This has been a watershed time for everyone approaching entrepreneurship,” he says. “Anyone starting out with an idea should plan first, then resource and finally execute. But we are in an era when people execute first, then resource and only then plan. Businesses are shooting and then aiming.”

As a distance MBA provider, Regent found it easier than some to move its MBA wholly online. Having realised early that education would be disrupted, the school had a new academic calendar in place before the lockdown began. In partnership with Vodacom, it also produced a guide to studying online. “It seems to have worked very well,” says Shaikh.

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