Stellenbosch University. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Stellenbosch University. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The University of Stellenbosch Business School has partnered with banking group Capitec to help postgraduate students pay for their education. The 7% interest rate loan, repayable over seven years, will lower one of the biggest barriers to postgraduate education, says the school.

Funding has always been a problem at this level of further education. Covid has made it worse, by reducing corporate funding and shrinking individual and family finances.

Owen Mbundu, the school’s marketing head, says the skills and knowledge taught in postgraduate programmes “are invaluable to [SA’s] future and we believe that the opportunity to gain knowledge should not be reserved [for] a few”.

The offer is limited to SA students. Among those who could benefit are students hoping to start their MBA next year. In 2021, the two-year distance programme, which includes some on-campus sessions, cost R278,480.

How many of those sessions will be on-campus is not clear. Stellenbosch was among a small number of SA business schools to welcome back MBA students to campus for block-release courses in 2021, albeit in limited numbers. MBA head Jako Volschenk estimates about 40% did so. He believes many more will want to return next year.

For those missing face-to-face interaction with classmates, the school arranged a series of dinners and informal get-togethers this year, including a cooking competition at the Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch.

Like other business schools, Stellenbosch has adopted a “blended” approach to MBA education, meaning a mixture of face-to-face and online education. It no longer offers a full-time MBA, which required students to live on the school’s doorstep for a year.

The school itself is in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville, though there are plans to relocate to central Stellenbosch.

Students are generally complimentary about the way Stellenbosch has managed to “reinvent” its MBA to cope with the pandemic. One area of deep regret – though students say the school had no option – has been the suspension of international study tours. Volschenk admits this has caused “frustration, disappointment and even anger”.     

Stellenbosch is among a select group of business schools in the world accredited by all three international quality bodies – the UK-based Association of MBAs, the European Foundation for Management Development and the US-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Despite the personal and financial pressures heaped on MBA students, Volschenk says demand for the programme remains remarkably strong. Professional and leadership development are obvious reasons but there’s also a growing cohort seeking personal growth.

“Many people writing the MBA entry essay say they have seen how other people have changed for the better during the programme,” says Volschenk. “One woman saw close up the changes in her husband and she wanted the same. If you approach the MBA in the right spirit, it will change your life, not just professionally but also personally, because of what it teaches you about yourself and what you are capable of.”

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