Owen Skae. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA
Owen Skae. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

After 21 years of living in borrowed space, you’d expect Rhodes Business School to be frustrated by delays in moving into its own, custom-built campus. Judging from the reaction of director Owen Skae, you’d be wrong.

Had Rhodes’s campus been built to 2019 specifications, it might have been inappropriate for post-Covid needs. At all business schools, most academic and executive education teaching is now conducted online instead of in the classroom. The popular view is that the future model will be a hybrid mix of face-to-face and virtual teaching.

Technology was always going to transform business education. Covid simply accelerated the process. Without it, says Skae, “we would not have embarked on these things so early, or to the level we have”.

Rhodes plans to concentrate more on distance learning. “No-one knows what the future hybrid model will be,” says Skae. “The pace of technological development is breathtaking.  What is certain is that there will be less need for classroom space. So we have decided to hold back on our new campus for now. It will happen, but we mustn’t jump the gun. We don’t want to move in and find it already redundant.”

The campus issue apart, the past 18 months have been a period of considerable progress for the school, which is part of Rhodes University. “We have a very good story to tell,” says Skae. “We are ready for the next stage of our development.”

Rhodes’s MBA programme was reaccredited by the international Association of MBAs (Amba) early this year. New academic programmes have been added, PhD student numbers are at record levels, the school has been selected as an education partner by the National School of Government, it has received funding for a small-business incubator and it has completed research projects for the national government.

The school also intends to become an active member of the Association of African Business Schools – even if there are no immediate plans to seek accreditation. “We are a small school. We put all our resources into Amba reaccreditation and don’t have the capacity to undertake another [accreditation process] for the time being.”

In the midst of growth, there have been challenges. A few weeks ago Rhodes Business School staff met en masse for the first time since March last year. Skae, who has worked from his school office since January to inject some normality into life, admits the strain of online teaching and communication can take a toll.

Zoom has become as invasive as e-mails,” he says. “People are coping, but it’s not ideal. So we have clarified the boundaries. Some teachers are comfortable with longer online sessions, others need shorter bursts. There’s no single, scripted way of doing things.”

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