Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Can you change human behaviour in an MBA classroom? Nelson Mandela University Business School MBA head Sam February poses the question in response to a market research finding that many SA employers find MBA graduates to be ethically weak.

It’s a worrying finding, given that business schools around the world, including in SA, have gone to great lengths to include ethics in their MBAs. Having started out as an optional, standalone subject, it’s now embedded in every area of programmes.

Graduates say they have learnt a lot from its inclusion. If they have, say employers, it’s not always evident in their behaviour at work.The problem, says February, is that ethics is taught theoretically. “But do we actually incorporate this into learning? I don’t think so. We have to be less academic and more practical.”

By the time students arrive at business school, their moral compass is already defined, through experience or upbringing. Much as February wants to change their behaviour, he admits: “Their character comes from within.”

Instead of throwing general ideas into the classroom mix, lecturers need to engage directly with students on ethical matters. Discussion should include practical examples of right and wrong that students can relate to. “We need a more human approach and less of an academic one,” he says. “Otherwise people will go back to the behaviour they know.”

February would also like to see a more targeted attitude to digital transformation. “There’s nothing that speaks directly to how the different elements will fit into everyday living. There’s not enough pure focus.”

Nelson Mandela, like other business schools, has refined its MBA teaching methods since programmes were forced online early last year. “To begin with, it meant moving lectures and slides online. Not much else was different.” Experience and acquired best practice have changed that. The virtual classroom is very different to the old physical one.

While acknowledging that student attitudes to old and new may differ, what is incontrovertible, says February, is that online teaching is more convenient.

“Even students who miss the networking and face-to-face interactions admit they don’t miss commuting to class.” Evening and weekend travel to block-release classes, particularly in major cities, can be “insane”.

“Students have adapted to the new way of learning and find it less stressful,” he says. It’s too soon to say when, or if, things will return to anything approaching normal. “We simply don’t know what’s going to happen with Covid.”

Nelson Mandela offers a part-time MBA costing R118,680 in 2021. The programme, accredited locally by the Council on Higher Education and internationally by the Association of MBAs, lasts two years, though students are allowed up to three years to complete. The school currently has 253 MBA students across the various years.

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