Q&A: How relevant is the MBA?
Executive education has extensive strategic repositioning to do, says Helena van Zyl, who recently retired after 20 years as director of the University of the Free State Business School
FM: How has your faculty coped with the shift to virtual teaching? It’s a big change, moving from a classroom to a computer screen, particularly if you have done the former all your life. Elsewhere, some lecturers have required counselling to help them cope with the stress.
Van Zyl: The majority of staff members have coped well. Surprisingly, some of the introverts have excelled in the online environment. One of the factors that assisted us is that, during the 2016 student protests, the business school migrated to a blended (partly online) environment in order to complete the academic year.
FM: Is any of your executive education taking place on campus?
Van Zyl: No business school teaching is on campus. Everything is online.
FM: What form do you think business education will take in the long term?
Van Zyl: Business schools have extensive strategic repositioning to do. The relevance of the MBA, in particular, must be thoroughly debated. In addition, the work environment has changed to such an extent that I cannot see how we will be able to go back to full-contact classes again.
FM: Do you plan to seek accreditation with the African Association of Business Schools?
Van Zyl: Yes, the team will do that. I believe it is a matter of contributing to business education in Africa.
FM: To what extent do you want to extend your activities into the rest of Africa?
Van Zyl: That is always important, but Covid has stopped all our initiatives.
FM: Does SA take the concept of lifelong learning seriously? How do you address it at UFS?
Van Zyl: Lifelong learning is of utmost importance, but I am not sure it is considered seriously enough. I am also not convinced that schools in general do the right things. I am of the opinion that lifelong learning and executive education should be more of a platform to address all the developments in the world we are working. The bureaucratic chains to adapt formal qualifications to changing circumstances are too limiting and the processes too slow.
FM: Are there issues where SA business schools can provide thought leadership to the rest of the world?
Van Zyl: The biggest challenge in the world is unemployment. Much more must be done regarding entrepreneurial mindsets and education, but formal education is not the answer.
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