Fulu Netswera. Picture: SUPPLIED
Fulu Netswera. Picture: SUPPLIED

Launching a business school is stressful at the best of times. But during a pandemic? And while simultaneously trying to launch a new MBA programme?

It’s no wonder that Fulu Netswera, executive dean of the faculty of management sciences at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), has been taking strain. Attracting students to the start of the first MBA programme, in July, was “nerve-racking”, he says.

Not surprisingly, student numbers fell short of original expectations. Other schools’ established programmes had a head start in brand awareness. Launching the school in the middle of the pandemic limited marketing, including all-important direct communication with potential students unfamiliar with DUT or its MBA.

It also forced DUT to change its MBA format. Netswera says: “Our initial plans were for a block-release programme that would bring students to Durban over the weekend once a month. Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to immediately switch the mode of delivery to online learning.” The first MBA class has 19 students. Many other applicants have to complete a business postgraduate diploma before joining the programme.

Now that the initial pressure is off, Netswera is bullish about the future: “Considering the response to this year’s advertisements, it is reasonable to foresee an exponential growth rate over time.”

It’s hard to differentiate between various MBA programmes in a crowded market. Netswera says DUT’s combines research with an in-house company project. Company involvement ensures the resulting analysis deals with real problems and that conclusions can be implemented within the company.

Electives such as sports management, local government management, health-care management, higher education management and disaster and risk management also set DUT’s programme apart, says Netswera.

He rejects the idea that the online education has killed the traditional MBA. He says: “Face-to-face teaching still has its merits, especially for group discussions and lecturer contact, and I hope it will eventually return. Covid created a need for online classes and even improved the offering by encouraging innovations and distance learning. We would welcome both face-to-face and online as ways of interacting with our students.”​

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