Picture: 123RF/VITEE THUMB
Picture: 123RF/VITEE THUMB

North West University Business School is performing a careful balancing act with its international growth. The school, based in Potchefstroom, has created a niche for itself in SA business education. Now it has its sights set on the rest of Africa, and beyond.

As the first SA school outside the traditional Big Four to win international accreditation from the UK-based Association of MBAs (Amba), it showed other, smaller schools what was possible. Several have since followed suit. North West is preparing for Amba reaccreditation later this year.

Now director Jan van Romburgh has his sights set on approval from US and European accreditation agencies. “Achieving that will be one of the most important objectives of my five-year tenure,” he says. He hopes agreements with foreign educational institutions, including one in St Petersburg, Russia, will lead to more international exposure.

At the same time, he wants the school to be one of the first accredited by the nascent Association of African Business Schools. As part of its plan to build a presence in the rest of Africa, Van Romburgh says the school is offering free business education programmes to some African countries.

“We will carry the cost in order to get our footprint out there,” he says. “We will test the market for acceptance and ask people what they would like us to offer. We are very serious about being relevant in Africa.”

He believes North West’s expertise in small and informal business development is a natural fit in many countries. The school has a long-standing small business unit and is building expertise in township economic development.

Deputy director Jan Meyer says the school’s knowledge can be applied to business education all over the world. “In SA, we have to deal with everything: from rich to poor, from formal to informal, we are a fantastic place for getting the whole picture. Schools in other countries talk of different economic and social circumstances from a distance. Here, we face them every day.”

Within the school itself, Van Romburgh says he has several priorities. One is to re-establish relationships with alumni. “They are very loyal but we have lost traction with them,” he says. “We have to do better.”

Another aim is to employ more black lecturers. Some posts will become available in the near future through retirement of current faculty. If it can’t get the [black] full-time numbers it needs, the school may hire black lecturers part-time.

“Black academics are out there,” says Van Romburgh. “Even if we can’t get them full-time, we can buy some of their time. I get a lot of requests from lecturers wanting to do that.”

One goal already achieved is school integration. North West had two business schools – Potchefstroom catering mainly to the private sector, and Mafeking to the public sector. There is also a third campus, in Vanderbijlpark. Merging them all into a single unit proved difficult. However, by forcing everyone online into a shared learning experience, Covid has achieved what humans couldn’t. “We are now operating as one school,” says Van Romburgh. “Covid forced everyone’s hand and made the merger process run smoothly.”

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