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What young Africans want from business education programmes

Young entrepreneurs like Nigerian taxi boss Bankole Cardoso (26) want to learn how to do business - but they also want something very different from the traditional, structured MBA. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

If you ask people what they consider the world’s most prestigious business degree, most are likely to answer, “An MBA.” Indeed, the Master of Business Administration remains a hugely popular business degree and still impresses many employers.

Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Denmark are among 29 countries where interest in the MBA is at a nine-year high. There are a number of growing Asian and South American countries on the same list.

But Africa is bucking the trend. New research by the Association of African Business Schools (AABS) reveals what the continent’s large youth population - and it’s very different to the traditional MBA model.

Short, sharp and online

The research shows that many African students simply don’t believe an MBA is relevant to their needs. They prefer shorter, more modular business courses and want these to combine elements of blended learning - such as online components - with contact time. Students also want more flexibility than is built into traditional business education programmes.

There is also a move towards shorter and more hands on programmes and services. These include executive education, quick interventions and business support services.

Both these trends are being driven by an increased access to technology and the rapid development of new online learning applications.

Do it yourself

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s 2014 report described young people in sub-Saharan Africa as among the most entrepreneurial in the world.

Several African countries are recording strong economic growth. Despite this, unemployment is rising - which explains why many young Africans are looking for ways to go it alone.

Traditionally, low education levels have posed a major barrier to such entrepreneurship. But post-school entrepreneurial business education is on the rise - and that must be at least partly responsible for what the 2014 report found and what is echoed by the AABS report.

Numerous business incubators and entrepreneurial programmes have sprung up across the continent. Entrepreneurship is increasingly part of most business schools’ core offerings rather than being just an add-on or elective.

An entrepreneurial network for Africa’s business schools, the African Academic Association on Entrepreneurship’s, was launched in 2015.

This underscores the growing value that is being placed on entrepreneurship education. It also reflects another trend: the increase in partnerships and support networks. Nearly 80% of the business schools surveyed have ties with international business schools. 82% have links with schools within Africa.

Values over value

Globally, young people seem increasingly aware about social and environmental issues and have a greater sense of social responsibility. This is evident in the rising numbers of business students who elect to stay in Africa and reinvest in their communities.

The report also reveals that this new generation of African business students is not overly interested in building careers in finance or consulting. Instead, they are motivated by entrepreneurship and innovation. They want to engage with their communities.

The shift towards a more values-driven approach to business and business education is underpinned by sustainability and social responsibility. In Africa, sustainable and ethical business solutions are seen to be a major catalyst for transforming communities, improving living conditions and creating more opportunities for others.

These aspirations reflect the continent’s ambitions for greater unity and a sense that Africans must and can do it for themselves. At the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Union heads of State Summit held in June this year in Johannesburg, African nations recommitted themselves to creating a prosperous, peaceful and technologically advanced continent.

Business schools have a vital role to play by inspiring and equipping students to be part of this new path of development and make meaningful and lasting changes while running successful businesses.

The AABS report found that several of the continent’s older business schools - among them the University of Stellenbosch Business School, the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, the Gordon Institute of Business Science (all in South Africa) and Nigeria’s Lagos Business school - are examples of those which practise what they preach.

These schools are looking beyond their traditional markets to engage with entrepreneurs in nearby poorer areas. They are offering personal business advice to local companies as part of their entrepreneurship work.

The rise of the private provider

The demand for business school education in Africa is growing exponentially and is already outstripping supply. There are a few world-ranked institutions and programmes operating alongside smaller, less developed schools. In all, there are only about 100 fully operational and identifiable business schools on the continent compared to an estimated 4000 in India.

Numerous private training providers are inevitably stepping into this gap, many specialising in executive education or short courses.

There are already 100 or more such private providers, including corporate training initiatives, in Addis Ababa alone - but just one university. This demonstrates how the market is opening up in some territories.

There is no doubt that the management education market will continue to diversify throughout Africa to address the demands of a growing number of learners. The mix is likely to include public-private partnerships and other forms of collaboration. Technology will play a central role and novel forms of delivery and content will be norm.

The MBA, while far from dead, will no longer be the only kid on the block.

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