5 July 2012

Africa: Building Excellence

As Africa's business schools strive for global standards, they will need to deepen local and international ties.

With the world's sights increasingly set on opportunities in Africa, the continent is working hard to create world-class business schools; requiring the right mix of global and local, of academic and vocational perspectives.

"It's not easy to find business schools with expertise in both academic and industry spheres," says Sarah Tinsley-Myerscough, programme director, Association of African Business Schools. "AABS is working towards it with... programmes designed to develop business school professors. But institutions also need to foster opportunities for academics to engage with industry through consulting programmes."

African business schools face the dual challenges of meeting local needs while also ensuring that what they offer is globally relevant; an issue that needs to be reflected in the affiliations they develop. "Without local knowledge, courses are largely irrelevant to local students and participants," says Guy Pfeffermann, CEO, Global Business School Network. "Emerging market experience is particularly crucial for schools in Brics countries and other emerging markets, as many graduates will work in regional or global companies and need to be able to operate seamlessly across these markets. But globally-relevant experience and knowledge of best practice are also crucial as all companies, wherever they are based, need to be competitive."

Across the hemispheres

Many of the continent's institutions work with schools in Europe and North America. Spain's IESE Business School, for instance, offers an 'International Faculty Programme' to help develop African staff. The school helps African partners in other ways, says Franz Heukamp, IESE's secretary general: "We also support African institutions by teaching in them, sitting in on sessions with local colleagues and giving them advice. We help them consider how to build and fund campuses and encourage them to think long-term - to think about who the faculty members of the future will be, so they can give them the right training."

Josephine Kibe, who is studying at IESE, will be helping to develop Kenya's Strathmore Business School once she has completed the IFP. "We have people from Holland, Hungary, Sweden, Ghana, Nigeria, Spain and Pakistan in my class. This multinational exchange of knowledge is very important. It has enabled me to build networks which will be essential in connecting our business schools, enabling us to share our experiences regionally and keep up to date with what is happening around the world."

France's Rouen Business School is also working with institutions in Africa, including Université Catholique de l'Afrique Centrale (UCAC), ISCAE Maroc, ISM Dakar and ISCAE Tunis. "We develop strategic partnerships," says Michel Motte, Rouen's assistant director for international academic affairs. "For example, our partnership with UCAC involves sponsoring professors to come to France once a year to participate in research or academic activities. We also sponsor administrative staff for specific projects. Professors from these institutions sometimes get the chance to be guest lecturers, teach, speak at conferences and participate in the Rouen Business School international week."

The north-south approach has its merits. For example, Marie Noelle N'Guessan is studying IESE's IFP to help develop Côte d'Ivoire's MDE Business School.

"Having the opportunity to study in Europe has been really useful as it has given me a chance to understand how global companies operate - essential for local firms operating in the global business world."

However, education received in the developed world is not always relevant to Africa. "We studied companies such as Walmart and Zara, which you can take a lot from, but unfortunately they have nothing to do with the situation in my country. It would be useful to learn how people in Africa are doing things - and this is something my business school and others in Africa can build on," says Ms N'Guessan. "There is a gap in Africa's knowledge about business best practice and we need to bridge it."

Kenya's Strathmore also intends to address this shortcoming. "We aim to provide courses that are relevant and take into consideration the challenges businesses face both internationally and locally," says Ms Kibe. "We use case studies and get local and international faculties involved in our programmes. We also partner with local industry experts to ensure our courses are relevant to African businesses."

South-south relations

With Indian and Chinese companies making forays into Africa, there is a growing need for the continent's students to understand Asian business models. In July 2011, South Africa's Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) launched the 'India Africa Business Network' to encourage greater collaboration between African and Indian businesses, and improve knowledge and understanding of the respective economies.

Academic links have also been forged. This year, Lagos Business School and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations renewed a memorandum of understanding which established a Chair of Indian Management Studies at LBS in 2009. Under the MOU, an Indian academic teaches management in areas such as marketing, strategy and finance, focusing on how business is conducted in India.

"The ties between India and Nigeria have continued to flourish following the recent economic crisis," says Mahesh Sachdev, India's high commissioner to Nigeria. "This partnership provides an extra dimension to India's growing bilateral synergy with Nigeria."

IESE's Professor Heukamp backs this approach. "Institutions can learn how economies move from one phase to another, and how they themselves can develop and encourage entrepreneurship," he says. "[But] any learning needs to be contextual as entrepreneurial ventures will differ from one country to another."

Walter Baets, director of the Graduate School of Business at South Africa's University of Cape Town, agrees: "Issues such as entrepreneurship, social innovation and public private partnerships need to be considered in each country's context."

This will mean developing deeper regional ties, but for all collaboration, faculties need to establish their own profiles - ones that are relevant to the needs of the regions they serve. "Each school has to create its own development model, and this must respond to the characteristics of each country and the institution's philosophy," Rouen's Mr Motte argues.

An example of a business school that has shaped itself to meet local needs is ISM in Senegal, which Rouen Business School is working with. Mr Motte says: "This is a private school with a social mission. Its founder is wealthy, and tuition fees are kept very low by funding from sponsors and companies. Other schools don't have such a strong social mission, so although ISM can learn lessons from them, it has to move forward with its own model."

He adds: "It's an integrated school which means it educates students from high school level through to bachelor and even master degrees, thereby sustaining a flow of well-educated people."

When it comes to improving local knowledge, AABS members are encouraged to share case studies on the organisation's database and attend faculty training courses as well as deans' trips. "African business schools collaborate with each other on various programmes as well as faculty exchanges," says Ms Tinsley-Myerscough. "Currently, a number of schools which are part of the AABS network are also exploring joint programmes in executive education."

In addition to institutional links, AABS is creating other networks, including the 'Mentor Deans Programme'. "This aims to mentor African business school deans through visits, telephone and online support over a three year period," she explains.

"We also conduct peer reviews of AABS member schools, providing opportunities for collegiate educational visits for other AABS members, as well as the chance to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the school being reviewed to ensure that it meets AABS criteria."

Meanwhile, professional bodies are also building their own programmes in response to the growing interest in Africa. The UK's Chartered Institute of Marketing, for instance, has a set up a network of accredited study centres in 13 African countries.

Africa needs to be prepared for the growing interest in the continent, and that means being able to supply the managerial talent to support business expansion. The continent readies for the challenge.

"You need someone with an international mindset but who understands African culture," Ms N'Guessan says. "We're seeing multinationals arrive with their executives from Europe and the US and they then look for executives from the [African] markets, so you end up with a mix of... culture[s]. Business schools need to be able to reflect that demand."

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