As an economic powerhouse on the African continent, South Africa serves as an inspiration to the entire world. 30 years ago, the country put aside years of racial divisiveness in favour of reconciliation - a process which was seen as nothing short of miraculous.
Since then, South Africa has re-occupied its place on the global stage, with the demand for broad-based management skills reaching record highs. The MBA has become a sought after qualification and is equipping a new generation of South Africans with the tools necessary to compete with their international counterparts. A growing market
Today, South Africa is a pioneering force in the field of business education with established institutions offering accredited MBA programmes of the highest calibre.
Thousands of MBA students enroll at local business schools every year and as the country moves into a new era of opportunity, the demand for MBA graduates is set to grow.
"The overall demand for MBA graduates is driven by the huge need for business leadership in South Africa. As the country has globalised, the pressures on business have increased - and so has the need for really competent people," says Professor Nick Binedell, former Dean of the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Business schools of distinction
Few people are aware that South Africa was home to the first MBA outside of the USA. The Graduate School of Management at the University of Pretoria (GSM) was founded in 1949 and two years later, 25 graduates received their MBA degrees – the first to be awarded by a non-American university. The GSM joins other local business schools with a rich MBA history.
World-class institutions, at the cutting-edge of research, stretch across the country from scenic Cape Town to vibrant Johannesburg where the pace is relentless.
A multitude of MBA options
A wide variety of MBA options are available, which are tailour-made to suit individuals with specific needs or circumstances.
Full-time MBA programmes are commonplace and have proven to be particularly popular with international students, while those who prefer to continue working while they study have a number of part-time programmes to choose from. Other options include modular, supported distance learning as well as Internet-based MBAs.
Depending on the option selected, the duration of programmes can vary from 1 to 5 years.
A balance between practice and theory
Having developed a global reputation for innovation and a “hands-on” approach to MBA education, South African institutions offer real-world learning, which is firmly rooted in the business sector.
MBA programmes are geared toward the fundamental aspects of business while allowing a level of specialisation through a range of electives. Globalisation, Project Management, Information Technology and Ethics are subjects that have received a great deal of attention and form part of curricula that have been benchmarked against international standards.
A cornerstone of many South African MBA programmes is the ability to provide an “overall” learning experience and students graduate with a solid grounding in both practice and theory.
“The structure of the MBA programme means it is more than just a qualification - it is a life-changing experience. Graduates are equipped to deal with the complexities and pressures of the modern world and can hold their own regardless of where they come from or where they operate,” says Elspeth Donovan, former MBA Director at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business.
A high standard of teaching
A combination of local and international faculty contributes to the wealth of expertise available at South African business schools. Many lecturers hold PhDs or Masters degrees and are leaders within their respective fields, thus ensuring a high standard of instruction.
A testament to the quality of teaching in South Africa lies in the fact that many faculty go on to occupy leading positions at international business schools. Success stories include Professor Mike Page (Dean of Rotterdam School of Management), Professor Meyer Feldberg (Dean of Columbia Business School) and Professor Brenda Gourley (Vice-Chancellor of the Open University).
Strategic alliances with international academic institutions are utilised by business schools to maintain a constant influx of progressive knowledge. This collaboration with worldwide networks provides students with the latest in management thinking.
The student body
In addition to rigorous admissions criteria, appropriate work experience is a key requirement for successful acceptance into South African MBA programmes, with the average age of students being 34.
Business schools look for candidates who are experienced, disciplined and focused on their intended career paths in order to ensure that the learning environment is both challenging and intellectually stimulating.
A major effort has been made to address gender diversity and women now account for a growing percentage of the student body. South Africa also attracts a large number of students from other African countries, which further contributes to the overall student mix.
Facilities and resources
Many South African business schools are blessed with state-of-the-art facilities. Purpose-built campuses, auditoriums, libraries, boardrooms, and top-of-the-range computer as well as Internet facilities, all form part of an infrastructure that compares with the best in the world.
Technology has impacted heavily on the South African MBA market. Online e-learning resources, sophisticated IT systems and wireless hotspots, enable students to remain in constant touch with lecturers as well as each other.
Business schools are recognising the need to adapt to the rapidly evolving business environment of the 21st Century and issues such as globalisation have become prominent features of local programmes.
MBA programmes are also beginning to reflect the needs of a changing South Africa. Racial and gender imbalances of the past are being rectified and structures have been implemented to ensure effective representation of the country’s demographics.
A trend toward entrepreneurial studies is gaining momentum and is influencing both the delivery and structure of traditional MBA models.
Evaluating the costs
Due to the favourable exchange rate, South African MBAs cost far less than overseas offerings.
Unity in diversity
Diverse cultures, languages and beliefs are a hallmark of the South African landscape. This fusion of Western and African ideology forms the ideal platform to prepare for today’s global workplace and serves as a major draw card for the increasing number of international students.
“South Africa’s reality is that our environment is far more diverse than many others and for this reason our business training needs to be relevant to that diversity,” notes Professor Adrian Saville of the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science.
As the birthplace of world icons such as Nelson Mandela, Gary Player, Desmond Tutu, Johan Rupert, Mark Shuttleworth and many others, South Africa is at the epicentre of a continental renaissance and is well set to provide students with the true MBA experience.