Africa: MBA investment brings rewards

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Completing an MBA qualification in Africa can increase a graduate’s earning power by between 40 per cent and 70 per cent. Generally this applies to people who are already high-flyers in the business world before they embark on a programme, but good skills are in short supply and therefore highly valued on the continent.

According to Professor Nick Binedell, director of the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, large organisations in Africa are faced with a choice: import skills or develop them locally.

“Demand for MBA graduates from internationally accredited schools in Africa is accelerating, especially as the continent becomes a priority for international investment in the next 5-10 years and economies grow apace,” he says. “Employers are willing to pay a premium for top MBA graduates, and roughly 80 per cent of graduates will improve their earnings significantly with the right qualification.”

Because of South Africa’s standing as the economic engine of sub-Saharan Africa, the country’s educational institutions produce the lion’s share of the continent’s MBA graduates, and it has a well-established track record of developing top people.

MBA courses cost between £12,000 and £15,000 ($19,000-$23,800), so upfront investment is substantial and the selection process rigorous.

“It’s hard to get in at any one of the big four business schools in South Africa, but the results on successful completion of a recognised course are reflected in elevated earnings,” says Prof Binedell.

Nick Segal, former director of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, says well-off families in countries to the north of South Africa, such as Kenya and Nigeria, have traditionally sent MBA candidates to business schools in the US, UK or South Africa.

“A postgraduate degree is expensive, but it is keenly sought after by businesses wanting to extend their African footprint – they are prepared to pay handsomely for suitably qualified personnel,” he says.

“Typically they will seek out MBA graduates from South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria and pay them competitive salaries,” Segal adds. “These graduates can expect steady salary and career progression, but it won’t happen overnight.

“Instead, they can anticipate enhanced lifetime earnings from the international networking that follows completion of an MBA qualification.”

Segal says cross-border business is a complex environment in Africa, but MBA graduates are well equipped to handle diversity.

“There’s less of a specifically African outcome for MBA graduates and more of an ability to perform successfully in broader international markets,” he says.

Established Kenyan institutions such as the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University have well-attended MBA courses, although smaller universities are starting to offer classes in a competitive labour market where salaries have not kept pace with inflation. Students and young executives see an MBA as a way to increase their earning power.

In South Africa, MBA students can study full- or part-time at the country’s “big four” business schools – at the universities of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Pretoria. The UK’s Henley Business School, based at the University of Reading, also has a large presence in South Africa and runs an MBA programme from Johannesburg.

“There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much earnings will increase with an MBA qualification,” says Prof Binedell, “but anecdotal evidence is that it’s a qualification that quickly pays for itself in a market where demand for formal, advanced business skills is huge.”

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