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The University of South Africa in Tshwane. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN
The University of South Africa in Tshwane. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN

Once, its distance-learning capacity gave it a special place in the market.  Now, with all business schools having gone online because of Covid, Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership (GSBL) is devising new ways to create a separate identity.

The mass migration to online “was not a good development for us”, says Peet Venter, the school’s head of executive education. “Suddenly the playing field was level for everyone. It’s forced us to look at how we go about our business.”

Venter, who was appointed last year, has begun to rejuvenate GSBL’s executive education programmes, which had lost headway. “We weren’t able to extract the value we thought we could get.” He says dean Pumela Msweli wants his department to earn R100m annually eventually from corporate and government clients. For now, revenue is a small fraction of that.

“We have a good idea of where we want to go and the programmes we want to offer,” Venter says. “But to progress, we have to go back to the basics. We have to put the necessary foundations in place.”

That may require a conversation with the central Unisa university. GSBL enjoys what has been described as “hybrid” autonomy, meaning it has the power to do some things on its own initiative. The problem, say some academics, is that it’s not always clear where the responsibility boundary – and the university veto – lies.

Venter admits the situation can be constraining, but says the school is pushing ahead with its executive education plans. There’s been a lot of emphasis so far on technology entrepreneurship and on SMEs.

Discussions with potential clients in other industries have begun, but “they have not yet been conclusive”. Targets include local government, state-owned enterprises and mining. “Clients that are geographically dispersed, with operations in multiple locations, are probably best for us. We are also looking for the sort of client that operates across Africa,” Venter says.

One of the GSBL’s priorities is to engage its alumni network to spread its message. “We have a potential team of thousands, but we haven’t made proper use of it,” says Venter.

Marketing support would certainly help. Research for the FM shows that though GSBL is one of the most recognised business schools among employers, it is low on their list as an education provider. Of companies polled, 67% know it well but only 18% would use it for executive education.​

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