There’s more to business education than lunch, says Henley
The cost of going virtual far outweighed the savings, says Henley Africa head
Which costs more: lunch, or a state-of-the-art, virtual reality teaching system? Unless you’re dining in one of the world’s most outrageously expensive restaurants*, the answer appears obvious. Obvious, that is, to everyone but a cent-conscious company training manager.
It’s amazing, says Henley Africa dean Jon Foster-Pedley, how many companies believe business schools are saving vast amounts of money by moving executive education out of the classroom and on to computer screens.
The Covid-enforced shift towards online teaching has caused many clients to demand reduced programme fees to compensate for what they perceive to be schools’ savings by not hosting students on campus.
What savings? asks Foster-Pedley. “There is a fear that you will miss out on lunch with online teaching. What about the additional training and technology that schools must provide? All the green screens and cameras? That’s a major investment in technology and training. The actual cost of going virtual is much, much more than the savings. If it’s a problem, we’ll even provide students with Wi-Fi and luncheon vouchers.”
For Henley, there’s been the additional burden of importing dozens of air purifiers to ensure clean air for students once the Joburg campus is fully reopened. “It cost an absolute fortune,” he says.
The fullness of that reopening is not yet clear. While Foster-Pedley looks forward to full student interaction on campus – “virtual is good, but we miss the brainstorming and nuance of face-to-face conversations and arguments” – he realises many people are still nervous of crowded places. Henley lost about 25 students to Covid, and staff lost dozens of friends and relatives.
The past two years have forced business schools, like all educational institutions, to soul-search about their future. For Henley Africa, it’s been an opportunity to continue its growth trajectory. Executive education revenue continues to flourish. Foster-Pedley says that when the UK-based international Henley group did particularly well in this year’s Financial Times executive education rankings, the SA school was a major contributor to its score.
It has broadened its offerings to corporate employees who can study for academic diplomas and degrees while working. “We’re now in the business of helping people who could not pursue higher education after school to do it while they are working. Fewer than 10% of South Africans get a degree within six years of leaving school. In the UK, it’s 50%. We can’t afford that to continue.”
This year the school became the first in the southern hemisphere to win a second talent-development award from the European Foundation for Management Development. It won, with Standard Bank, for a programme called “Acceleration”, part of the bank’s strategy to develop African leaders and reduce its traditional dependency on expatriate, mostly male, candidates to fill senior management positions across Africa.
*A Tokyo restaurant was last year named the most expensive lunch venue in the world, with a fixed-menu bill of $600 (without drinks).
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