Stakeholders are working to build new business schools in a bid to meet the continent's shortfall.
Sometimes it's just easier to start again. At least, that is the thinking when it comes to African business education, where stakeholders are working from scratch to create new world-class schools in a model that others can replicate. The argument? Good management education is key to economic growth and social wealth; and building new schools is an easier and quicker approach than trying to develop existing ones - especially the abundant public institutions constrained by government agendas.
Nigeria and Congo-Brazzaville are the first countries of choice. The latter - a tiny, oil-dependent state, afflicted by high poverty and low education levels - might seem a strange selection. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the process has not been as easy to get off the ground as some would have hoped. Two partnerships between the government and North American schools have fallen through since 2009, leaving the state preferring to fly solo. It is now using its own budget to start a private school with the help of the Global Business School Network.
With the network working to mobilise faculty from across the continent's best schools, the plan is for the setup to start small - teaching just executive education - before developing an MBA programme, says GBSN's CEO Guy Pfeffermann. It may not be an easy project, he admits, and it is still in very nascent stages, but the almost total dearth of schools in the central African region - as well as Brazzaville's proximity to the DRC's capital Kinshasa, with its 8m strong population and growing middle class - should position the new school as a regional hub for training professionals in natural resource management and entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, other stakeholders are working to create a more formal blueprint that could be replicated the continent over. Chief among those is the newly launched African Management Initiative, which has tasked itself with filling the continent's vast management gap. It is creating a "business schools in a box" template for high quality schools, which can be taken to high-net-worth Africans or philanthropists for funding.
"At the top of the pyramid we need more business schools and they need to be more attuned to the needs of African markets," explains AMI's head Rebecca Harrison. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that quality education can be rolled out fairly rapidly in new setups. "But we need to be able to do it more quickly, without a 10 year horizon and a $50m investment," she argues. "So we are building our template for a new start-up business school which answers the key questions that someone funding that school would ask: What is it going to cost? And how can I make it relevant?"
The initiative is drawing on successful strategies from the likes of Lagos Business School and Nairobi's Strathmore Business School, which both started small, teaching executive education courses before building full-time programmes. New schools might also learn from Tunisia's Mediterranean School of Business, which since its setup in 2002 has become one of the continent's few internationally accredited institutions.
"Starting a business school is a major undertaking and you need a strong long- and mid-term vision, as well as a short-term strategy," says MBS's dean Mahmoud Triki. "My vision was to develop a regional institution, to make Tunisia an educational destination."
New schools need to "think big, start small, and make a strategic difference, compared to what already exists," he believes. Foci should include targeting leading regional corporations which can back the project, as well as top international faculty to teach initial executive education courses. This is particularly necessary in the North African context, he says. "If you want to attract high potential candidates to your programmes it's not going to be easy, because you are competing with a well established system." As a differentiator in a French-speaking country, MBS offers its courses in English - "knowing that the language of international business, of finance, is English". Food for thought, perhaps, for Brazzaville.
AMI will be piloting its project in Nigeria - where, according to Ms Harrison, there is "a huge gap and easily room for three or four new schools" - with funding from the Tony Elumelu Foundation. TEF is planning to run the setup out of one of the oil regions of Delta State or Port Harcourt. Seed funding would be bolstered by equity stakes held by private businesses, its founder Tony Elumelu envisages.
"There are a lot of businesses across Nigeria that would be interested in partnering with us - especially in a key economic area like Delta State or Port Harcourt," says Mr Elumelu, who established the United Bank for Africa's training academy during his time as chief executive. "These companies have to create huge, expensive projects for training their staff and they really feel the need for advancement in management education which is attuned to their needs."
Again, the idea is to start small - offering only high level executive education in simple facilities, but taught by big international names. "If you can target the top executives, give them a great experience, really focus on the intellectual rather than physical infrastructure - then once you've started to build a brand locally and started to build some local faculty you can roll out from there," AMI's Ms Harrison explains.
The aim? "To create the standard of human capital required for Nigeria and the rest of Africa to power the transformational government projects, and to develop the private sector," Mr Elumelu says. "So we want our own school, and then to support others who are interested in doing something similar. We want for this to be catalytic.
"We need more managers and more leaders. It all comes back to the private sector's contribution to social wealth. A starting point is to have people who can make business and investment decisions, manage businesses successfully. Setting up a business school is a means to an end - which is to have an African economy performing well, creating social wealth. To get that done we have to train people, and train them well."