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Record high MBA enrolments at SA business schools

Still in vogue, MBAs are set for reform and tougher entry requirements.

Some of South Africa’s leading business schools have recorded high registration numbers for prospective students enlisting for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) this year.

Rhodes Business School has 30 students who have registered for the MBA programme – double those of last year – enrolled in either full-time or part-time study.

Registration numbers at the Wits Business School are also looking sharp. According to acting head of the business school Dr Adam Gordon, registration numbers have been up “400%” for the 2014 academic year.

“We just closed our enrolments. The full-time MBA is up 400%, while the part-time MBA – both evening and day courses – are both a 100% full,” says Gordon.

The same trend in increased registrations of MBA students is true also for the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

According to GIBS executive director of marketing Howard Fox, the business school has experienced strong demand through 2013 and the beginning of 2014 for places on various MBA programmes.

In light of the demand for an MBA qualification, GIBS has introduced two additional MBA programmes for 2014. This includes an extra part-time intake to accommodate increased demand.

“We expect the total number of enrolled students for 2014 to increase by approximately 20% year-on-year,” says Fox.

Popular choice

Traditionally a hit with managers and professionals who want to beef up their management skills, an MBA is still in vogue for those looking to broaden their outlook on complex matters.

President of the South African Business School Association (Sabsa) Professor Tommy du Plessis says students from across different professional industries apply for an MBA, as it is “still the most sought after qualification in the world”.

With a high number of students acquiring degrees across different academic disciplines, Director of Rhodes Business School Professor Owen Skae says in today’s market an MBA qualification is more relevant than ever.

Skae adds: “Increasingly you hear how leaders and managers of organisations are required to think in an integrated manner. There is no other qualification that does this”.

While the cost versus reward for individuals who opt to study for an MBA is often questioned, Skae says in a survey conducted by the university, employers confirmed that MBA graduates do offer value in the workplace.

Fox adds: “… It (an MBA) broadens a graduate’s vision and helps develop their skills and business acumen such that they can take on the general management role required to lead a division or entire organisation”.  

Despite the strong number of registrations of MBA students at business, Skae says the business school landscape is competitive.

“South Africa is blessed with having many fine Business Schools, doing exceptional, ground breaking work…Our business schools need to be better utilised by organisations so as to enhance our leadership and management capabilities,” he says.

Competition for GIBS is more about quality, rather than quantity. Fox says amongst the top internationally accredited South African business schools, competition “isn’t for more students, so much as competing for the highest quality students”.

Entry requirement reforms

The current MBA qualification landscape is going through reform.  Entry requirements for an MBA will be bolstered across South African universities and prospective MBA students will now need to have a four-year long bachelor’s degree, post graduate diploma or honours degree.

For entry into business schools currently, prospective MBA students must have a tertiary level degree, a minimum of three years’ work experience and write the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).

Sabsa proposes boosting the MBA to a masters level – which will in turn bring the degree to a level 9 qualification and therefore increase its entrance requirements.  The Council on Higher Education initially proposed for an MBA to be considered at an honours degree, which means the qualification would be at level 8.

“If we want to continue as a level 8 qualification it would be detrimental to students,” Du Plessis told Moneyweb.  

Du Plessis says there is buy-in by universities and vice chancellors towards the proposed reforms into the MBA structure.

The new reforms will also bring a dual aspect to an MBA. Prospective students will have the option to enlist for a professional or academic MBA. A professional MBA will expose students to real world problems, while an academic MBA will be research and course work-driven.

“MBA is a more practical degree that deals with course work, the research is a small component. Thirty-three percent (of an MBA) should be research-focused and must look at a more professional aspect of an MBA,” he explains.

Skae says the research aspect is as important as practical skills that students will be exposed to when studying for an MBA.

“We believe research skills are necessary in the post graduate level and research is an essential skill in the world of work. Students must have course work competency and exposure to real world experiences to do readings and research to complete an MBA,” he says.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, Skae warns, as the restructuring of the MBA might impact the intake of students and business school which will have to introduce additional post graduate diplomas for students who do not qualify to enlist for an MBA. After completing the year-long diploma, students can proceed to qualify for an MBA.

Self-accreditation and standards

According to Du Plessis there are over 1 000 business schools in the world. South Africa has five institutions out of the seven in Africa that are accredited by AMBA.

Currently South African business schools are rated by international business school players and Sabsa is looking for business schools to be rated by the local academic fraternity.

Central to the restructuring of MBA entrance requirements is to bring South Africa’s qualification on a par with international best practices, but how does the local MBA qualification fare when benchmarked against international standards?

In Skae’s opinion SA’s MBA qualification “fare(s) extremely well” when judged by an international standards, as “our business schools offer exceptional value for money”.

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