How African business schools are finding their own path

African business schools aim to work together to create ‘relevant’ standards across the continent

David Furlonger furlongerd@fm.co.za

Africa must set its own standards for business education and the quality of its business schools, says Ali Elquammah, chair of the Association of African Business Schools (AABS). Western standards that were applied in the past take no account of African context and culture, he says, so the association is creating its own accreditation model to raise standards across the continent.

Like the rest of the world, top African schools have traditionally aspired to three international accreditations — offered by the UK-based Association of MBAs, the European Foundation for Management Development and the US Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Barely a dozen African schools have succeeded and most of those are in SA.

There’s no reason for ambitious African schools to stop pursuing these accreditations, says Elquammah, but the continent also needs something that reflects its own needs. He gives two examples of the divide between Western and African business realities. Western business education, particularly case studies, reflects economies dominated by multinationals employing tens of thousands of people and counting their revenue in billions of dollars. Yet in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, over 90% of companies have fewer than 10 employees.

In the West, particularly countries with ultra-low unemployment, it’s easy to dismiss workers. “In Africa, where each job supports many people, if you fire a person, you fire a family and you fire a tribe,” he says. “You create a social situation. African culture is about ‘we’, not ‘me’.”

Nicola Kleyn, dean of Pretoria University’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), leads the team setting the criteria for AABS accreditation. The challenge is to create something that reflects the reality of African business education without lowering the bar. Indeed, Elquammah says he expects that most African business schools — no-one is sure of the number but it’s thought to be about 100 — will not achieve accreditation.

But that’s OK. By getting them into the system, “we will see what’s out there and be able to help them all raise their standards. High-quality schools will mentor others and take them to the next level. If a school in Liberia has 2,000 students and seven teachers, let’s see what we can all do to help. We want to create an environment of continuous improvement for everyone.”

The three international accreditation bodies have all pledged to help the process.

Elquammah admits that the concept of African context and standards is itself a loose one. “We are not talking of a united land. Africa has 54 countries with 2,176 languages. But we are better equipped than people in Europe and America to understand what this continent needs. While they teach artificial intelligence and other advanced theories, half our people in Africa have no electricity. Let’s not be weighed down by Western legacy. Let’s take the best of what they have to offer but find our own path.”

Sammy Bonsu, from the Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration, says his school hopes to take a leading role in mentoring emerging business schools. “Once, African schools thought they couldn’t function without Western support. Now we need to find African solutions to the challenges we face,” he says.

“We have the opportunity to start with a clean slate. With the benefit of hindsight, we can craft something completely new, something uniquely African. We have the tools and the experience to do so but we haven’t had the courage until now.”

Mohamed Amine, a professor at Morocco’s Iscae business school, says African schools must teach the best of African and global business practices. “If you teach only one, you don’t give students an opportunity to succeed,” he says. “African contexts are different but there are common education challenges, like digitalisation, quality and sustainability. And, of course, the need for basic business and management skills doesn’t change.”

Lemira Diallo, accreditations head at Senegal’s African Management Institute, which has campuses in several West African countries, says it’s incumbent on African schools to raise education levels. Unlike SA, where the Council on Higher Education and other state bodies set standards, “many governments lack interest in business studies”. In West Africa, business education generally is still finding its feet.

Diallo’s school is 25 years old and pursuing international accreditations. She says: “Standards are achievable but we have to ask ourselves constantly if they are all applicable to our situation.”

 

Published on 25/07/19 0101fm2507FinancialMail Cover33 AL, 25/07/19 0101fm2507FinancialMail Cover34-35 AL