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Henley Business School. Picture: Henley Business School
Henley Business School. Picture: Henley Business School

As a former commercial pilot and aerospace marketing executive, it was perhaps inevitable that dean Jon Foster-Pedley should look to the aviation industry for solutions when Covid came knocking on the door of Henley Business School Africa.

Keen as he has been to get students back on to the school’s northern Joburg campus, Foster-Pedley feels it has to be completely safe first. The biggest challenge, he says, is reconfiguring the entire ventilation system. And who better to advise on that than experts in creating clean air in confined spaces?

“We’ve been employing people from the airlines to help us create a safe environment,” he says. “It’s been an expensive exercise, but we can’t take risks. We want to open the campus. It would be easier if everyone in SA were vaccinated against Covid, but they’re not, and so we must take our own preventive measures.”

MBA students are also anxious to return. And Foster-Pedley says a psychologist told him she is encountering unprecedented stress levels among SA students because of the “relentless” lockdowns and accompanying uncertainty.

“When you are under pressure, cognitive performance may decline,” he says. Stressed Henley students are encouraged to delay assignments or even suspend studies if the school thinks it is in their interest.

Despite the challenges, Foster-Pedley says demand for the Henley MBA is as strong as ever. The school had over 600 applications to start their MBA programmes in 2021. Of those, 425 were accepted and 390 actually enrolled. At present Henley has over 1,200 students at various stages of their MBA studies.

Henley Africa is a campus of UK-based Henley Business School. Students are subject to the same academic standards as those studying at the parent and its other international campuses. It is a source of pride to Foster-Pedley that SA students are among the group’s highest performers.

A growing number are on scholarships funded by the school. People from sport, journalism and creative industries are among those who benefit.

Henley Africa is also expanding its involvement in health care. It recently launched a specialist school of health management. Maybe it’s because he’s part of an international school, but Foster-Pedley is unfazed by the growing interest in SA by foreign business schools. The increasing dominance of online programmes has made it easier for big-brand American and European schools to trawl other markets.

Foster-Pedley says SA, with its failing education system, should welcome foreign competition at any level. “If this is the best way to provide a quality education for all, then bring it on”.

He says the only way to uplift SA’s population is through education. “We shouldn’t fear international competition, but collaborate with it. You can’t keep international knowledge at bay.”​


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