The issue of business school autonomy
Business schools need freedom, within clear guidelines, to determine their own business models, says Fulu Netswera, director of North-West University’s Graduate School of Business & Government Leadership.
Universities are often unclear how business schools fit into their organisational structures. Many of the programmes schools offer have no academic qualification at the end. Few students are undergraduates; rather, they are referred to as “post-experience”, meaning they have been in work for several years.
And then there’s the money. Executive education and MBA programmes can bring in healthy revenue from students and corporate clients.
Some universities recognise that business schools themselves best understand the market in which they operate, and allow them leeway to run their operations. Others take a more hands-on approach, directly recruiting students and clients and taking absolute control of finances. Schools are reduced to the role of service providers.
Netswera, who previously headed the Turfloop Graduate School of Leadership at Limpopo University, is clear which model he prefers.
“To run a successful business school in a competitive market like SA’s, you need operational flexibility. Obviously there must be university ground rules, but a business school is best run by those who understand its role and the market in which it operates. It’s hard when the rest of the university wants to run a department by committee.”
The issue of business school autonomy is relevant right now. A number of universities are re-examining the relationship. So are the shareholders of private sector schools. The new owners of Monash (now MSA) and Milpark are both working out how the schools fit into their broader business models.
Netswera says he has spoken to other business school deans and directors and there is unanimity on the issue. “A business school is a different kind of animal,” he says. “It doesn’t fit neatly into a box like other university departments. To treat it as if it does helps neither the school nor the university. There is no room for ambiguity.”