Stellenbosch Business School is ‘going home’
If Mark Smith’s first few months in charge of Stellenbosch Business School were frustrating, the subsequent ones have more than made amends. This year the school has changed its name and its logo, and made significant progress towards finding a new home.
It was previously known as the University of Stellenbosch Business School — something of an aberration, since the parent institution changed its name some years ago to Stellenbosch University. Many of the world’s leading business schools, like Harvard, have a self-contained identity despite being closely linked with a university. Smith says the school’s new logo, which includes the university’s emblem, signifies the relationship.
In fact, it can be argued that school and university are on their way to a closer bond than ever. The school’s current campus is in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville, next to the N1 highway. In future, says Smith, the school is likely to be based in the heart of Stellenbosch itself, close to other university schools.
It has already begun to team up on projects with the engineering and data science departments. “In the past, we have generally worked alone,” says Smith.
There has been talk of a new campus for some years. As it turns out, the previous lack of action was a blessing in disguise. Original plans were based on pre-Covid teaching methods, requiring lots of offices and large classrooms. The past two years has seen Stellenbosch, like most schools, move much of its teaching online and into the virtual world.
Smith says: “Had we built in 2019, we would have something today that is not fit for purpose. Post-pandemic, we need fewer offices and more flexible spaces. The new design will be completely different.”
The site of the proposed campus is zoned for agricultural use. By the time planning, design and building are complete, Smith reckons it will be 2026/2027 before the new campus is ready. While Stellenbosch will be the school’s new centre, the Bellville site is likely to remain a satellite campus for Cape Town students.
You need to be present for the magic, to be in the same space to spark off each otherMark Smith
It is currently fully open for business. Local and international students — including a large group from Spain — have been passing through its doors all year. Smith says the building is busy much of the time, including weekends and evenings, when most modular MBA classes happen.
Most programmes, however, are hybrid — a mix of face-to-face and online. While many students welcome direct personal interaction — “You need to be present for the magic, to be in the same space to spark off each other,” says Smith — the pendulum has swung too far towards hybrid to ever go all the way back.
School staff and academics are also enjoying “the creativity and collegiality of human contact”.
This is particularly so for Smith, who spent the first year of his tenure running the school remotely from France, while waiting for an SA visa.
He’s making up for lost time now, leading a redesign of many of the school’s academic programmes. “Stackability”, in particular, allows students to build knowledge and qualifications at their own pace, by breaking major degree programmes into manageable, stepping-stone parts.
With digitisation, this will make academic study accessible to more people. “If we can build this stackability, we will be fit for the 21st century,” says Smith.
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