Africa's Business Schools Thriving: The Demand for Quality Management by Africa's Increasingly Sophisticated Commercial Sector Has Led to a Steady Growth of Local Business Schools. Some of These, as Sarah Rundell Found out, Have Reached Top International Standards

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Angola and the DR Congo do not immediately spring to mind as economies with a burgeoning demand for executive education, yet both countries are in the process of setting up business schools. The Johannesburg-based Association of African Business Schools (AABS), which aims to increase African management capacity and raise standards amongst the continent's business schools, has started mentoring initiatives in both countries to help infant schools reach its strict entry criteria via its Pipeline School project. Since it was established in 2005, AABS has grown to 17 members represented in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal.

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"There is a steady growth in demand for management education across Africa and business schools and new private schools have emerged to meet that need," says Jonathan Cook, executive director of the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science and chairman of AABS. "Most of Africa's large national universities now have business schools and schools are emerging in new areas like command-focused economies for the first time."

A vibrant, indigenous community of business schools that fosters innovation and nurtures a talent pool is vital for economic development. Good business schools also plug the damaging flow of talented people to study abroad, many of whom never come back. But despite demand, there are still only an estimated 50 business schools in Africa compared to 1,000 in India and 1,200 in the US--and most of the continent's best schools are in South Africa.

Schools say they have not been hit too hard by the recession. Although demand for executive education programmes fell in response to the downturn, other courses, like MBAs, held up. "We are seeing strong demand for executive education courses in 2010. All those that moved out their programmes last year to save cash are back," says Professor Eon Smit, director at the University Of Stellenbosch Business School.

The overall trend is up. The numbers of students graduating from Kenya's top business schools has risen from about 400 a year in 2003 to 2,000 in 2008. South African universities take in more than 4,000 MBA students each year.

Worldwide, more women than ever are going to business schools. Leading institutions have made efforts to woo women, taking measures such as hiring admissions staff charged with debunking myths about male-dominated MBA programmes. In South Africa, a major effort has been made by intstitutions such as Wits Business School to address gender diversity and women now account for a growing percentage of the student body.

Specific skills

Smit links growth in demand for executive education to a realisation of the importance of management training. "More and more companies and organisations are realising that management isn't something you can do by the seat of your pants," he said.

Schools are also diversifying their course offerings to attract more students. Nairobi's US International University School of Business (USIU) now offers a Global Executive MBA and an Executive MSc in Organisational Development. Both new courses are pitched at top executives looking to develop more sector-specific skills.

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Funding is one of the biggest challenges business schools face. Most business schools are private and have to earn their income through course fees but, in a catch-22 situation, some cannot open the door to more students because they lack the resources.

"Demand for our courses is there, but we do not increase our programmes unless we can ensure the quality of education," says Dr George K'aol at USIU, where an MBA costs $5,000 a year and fees account for around 99% of the school's funds. In South Africa, businesses pay on average $3,000 annually per employee for a bespoke business course. Even when the government does help, funds are squeezed. …