Are SA schools truly African? New accreditation body doesn’t want Western clones
It may boast the greatest business education depth in Africa, but SA will get no favours from the body created to drive up standards in business schools across the continent. Indeed, the Association of African Business Schools (AABS) says some top SA schools might not meet its accreditation criteria because they aren’t “African” enough.
Of 12 African schools accredited by the International Association of MBAs, eight are from SA. Local schools account for two of the three accredited by the European Foundation for Management Development, and three of seven by the US Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
And that’s the trouble. These are all Western bodies, based on Western standards. The AABS wants its schools to have an African bias.
Ali Elquammah, academic director of Morocco’s HEM Business School and AABS chair until last month, when he was succeeded by Namibia Business School director Grafton Whyte, says: “We need to be strong enough to manage our own wealth, to set our own standards.”
To this end, schools must demonstrate African context, relevance and impact, says head of accreditation and strategy Lana Elramly.
She wants them to “cement their African roots” and “make Africa a better place”.
She adds: “Some top African schools won’t qualify for accreditation because they don’t have African context.
Some SA schools have global reach, but are they truly African?”
Without exception, SA schools say they are, and that the rest of the continent is important to them — not just as a source of income but also as somewhere they can contribute to educational upliftment.
Still, there’s no denying Africa can be profitable. Thousands of students from other countries take part each year in SA schools’ academic and executive education programmes.
These schools also attract plenty of non-SA corporate clients. Research for this story shows that, in 2021, SA schools are providing executive education to companies from 19 other countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Angola and Rwanda.
Most SA schools say they support the AABS’s priorities. Some, like Wits Business School, Henley Africa, North-West University and Regenesys, say they have already started the accreditation process.
Susan Benvenuti, Wits’s head of academic quality assurance, says: “We are halfway through. We want to work with AABS. It will be a powerful player on the continent.”
Rhodes, Milpark and Nelson Mandela University business schools are all busy with other accreditations in 2021 but say they will pursue AABS later.
Rhodes director Owen Skae says: “We are a small school with limited capacity.”
Helena van Zyl, who retired at the end of June after 20 years as director of the University of the Free State Business School, says it plans to seek accreditation eventually. “I believe it is a matter of contributing to business education in Africa,” she explains.
Kobus Jonker, director of the Tshwane School for Business & Society, holds a similar view. “An Africa focus is important for us and we see the AABS as a way of achieving that. In Europe and the US, the business education emphasis is on the bottom line. In Africa, it’s about social responsibility as well. As our name suggests, that’s very relevant to us. Societal impact matters.”
Johannesburg Business School dean Randall Carolissen says accreditations are important for the four-year-old school. While most schools go global first, he wants to start with the AABS. “Only after that will we consider the others.”
Some schools won’t be signing up. Mancosa and Regent, private schools based in Durban, are members of another African network, Honoris United Universities, comprising 14 higher education institutions.
Mancosa’s Zaheer Hamid describes it as “the first truly pan-African platform of private universities”.
According to Regent director Ahmed Shaikh, the network gives members access to hundreds of African academics and 60,000 students. While Regent has no intention of joining the AABS, he says: “I see an opportunity for collaboration between it and Honoris.”