Wits Business School. Picture: SUPPLIED/WBS
Wits Business School. Picture: SUPPLIED/WBS

Wits Business School (WBS) has 200,000 secret weapons to call upon if foreign schools try to muscle in on SA: its alumni.

It’s a resource that WBS director Maurice Radebe admits hasn’t been used properly in the past – in common with most SA business schools. Overseas, particularly in the US, some schools receive millions of dollars each year from grateful students.

SA schools will never enjoy that kind of largesse. What they can try to do is leverage alumni influence. WBS alumni include many senior executives, including CEOs, around the world. Radebe says the school is stepping up efforts to encourage their involvement in the school,  directly or indirectly. “We are challenging them to give of their time.”

MBA head Thabang Mokoaleli-Mokoteli wants some to join an MBA advisory board. Radebe takes a wider view. There is growing evidence of foreign business schools trawling SA for MBA students now that the trend to online education has removed physical barriers to foreign study.

SA has world-class business schools underpinned by a tightly regulated higher-education environment but that doesn’t stop some individuals from believing that “foreign is best”. A number of companies also believe they are best served by executives studying offshore MBAs.

Radebe argues that a WBS MBA has been no obstacle to international advancement in the past, and there’s no reason it should be now. That’s where the alumni come in. Potential students need to see their success as an example of what they can achieve.

Radebe, himself a WBS MBA alumnus, is approaching the end of his first year as director, after joining from Sasol, where he was executive vice-president of the group’s energy business.

It’s been a challenging period because of continued restrictions dictated by Covid. “I thought we would be fully open by March,” he says. “Everything we expected has been completely overturned.” He wants the campus to reopen as normal “but I can’t say when that will be”.

Mokoaleli-Mokoteli says the continuing uncertainty demands clear communication between school and students. “We have changed how we communicate and inform. Students must know at all times exactly what is happening and what is expected of them. With online teaching, it’s no longer as straightforward as it used to be.”

The same applies to teaching. Wits University, of which WBS is part, has helped the school adapt to online teaching. Harvard Business School is among foreign institutions from which it has also taken guidance. “We have had to learn a whole new skills set,” says Radebe. “We have come a long way.”

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