Seeking new ways to grow and reach new markets, both European and Asian business schools are seeking to expand in Africa to meet rising demand.
At a Holiday Inn in Ghana, Shanghai-based business professors lecture to African executives on the fundamentals of management. German microfinance experts teach Congolese students in a Kinshasa classroom, while across Africa, 250 private and public-sector managers, funded by scholarships, study from home for M.B.A.s from a Scottish university.
International business schools have long neglected Africa, reluctant to venture into a part of the world many saw as offering lots of risk and red tape for little profit. But a handful of schools have recently begun working on the continent or expanded programs there, and those who support the moves say high-quality management training is badly needed in Africa and could give a big boost to the continent’s economic development.
Problems in housing, health care, agriculture and employment “all come back to poor analysis, poor planning, poor implementation of plans. In other words, weak management,” said Richard America, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, who has worked to support African B-schools. “All those problems, it’s not that they would disappear, but they wouldn’t be as intense and chronic and miserable if the quality of management were higher.”
While South Africa is home to a number of international-quality business schools, there are only a handful of top institutions elsewhere in Africa, Mr. America said.
CEIBS, the China Europe International Business School, has opened one of the biggest international programs in Africa. The Shanghai-based school launched its executive M.B.A. in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in March 2009, with a class of 40 students, and is now getting ready for its third intake. CEIBS faculty are also running short courses for companies that want to train their African employees, and new programs are in the works focusing on female entrepreneurs, health-care management, and tribal leaders.
Many young Africans go abroad for M.B.A.s, and some never move back home, said Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, director of the CEIBS Africa program. “We want to reverse that trend,” he said.
CEIBS discounts its fees for African students and is losing money on the Ghana program, Dr. Atuahene-Gima said. It rents office space and holds classes at a hotel, but hopes eventually to have its own Accra campus, he said.
With Chinese businesses making major investments in Africa, having professors with experience of the continent is good for CEIBS’s reputation at home, Dr. Atuahene-Gima said. The school believes African executives wanting to build their countries’ economies can learn a lot from China’s rapid development.
“We believe that our school can provide a bridge between executives in Africa and executives in China, in Asia, so that Africa can learn why China has been able to go so fast,” he said.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, torn until 2003 by one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars, the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management last year opened a microfinance program in partnership with the Université Protestante au Congo. Funded by €2 million ($2.7 million) from the German academic exchange agency DAAD, the institutions are also offering executive training, mainly to big international banks and microfinance companies working in Kinshasa, said program director Barbara Drexler.
Because there’s a dearth of high-quality business education in the region, few Congolese have the skills needed by the booming microfinance industry, Dr. Drexler said. Most banks “recruit either foreigners, expatriates, for anything above middle management, or members of the Congolese diaspora, who have spent, 10, 20 years abroad,” she said. Those workers’ very high wages limit the growth of the banks and the local economy, Dr. Drexler said. “We make it more feasible for them to do business here.”
Edinburgh Business School, part of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, has offered its distance-learning M.B.A. in Africa since 1990, and has 2,000 students studying from home there.
In September, it began offering scholarships to Africans who promised to use the degrees to help their countries’ development. The school plans to fund 250 African students over five years. Graça Machel, the activist and wife of Nelson Mandela, is offering extra support to female participants through her mentoring program.
Even those far from big cities can earn an M.B.A. without moving or changing jobs. Many, such as a student working on renewable energy in rural Zimbabwe, would have been unable to study business any other way, said Alick Kitchen, the Edinburgh school’s director. So far, the scholarship students come from 14 countries, including Zambia, Ethiopia and Namibia.
“When I saw the ad, I said, ‘Oh, this is my chance,'” said Martha Sambani, an administrator at the University of Malawi. The management skills she is developing have already helped her on the job. “I’m using my knowledge to handle my day to day, because I have to handle staff, I have to deal with people, I have to handle conflicts within the workplace,” she said.
Ms. Sambani said having an M.B.A. will give her access to more senior positions at her school, meaning extra income to help support her seven younger siblings.
Some international institutions, including Columbia Business School, are doing work in Africa through Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative, a five-year, $100 million effort to provide management education to women in poor countries. And Mr. America cited Namibia’s new Harold Pupkewitz Graduate School of Business as a notable homegrown effort to boost the quality of business training in Africa.
“I believe that school will emerge as one of the best very quickly, and the way these things so often happen, other people will notice that and there will be imitation, and that is a good thing,” he said.
But there are hurdles. Dr. Drexler said that in the Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, they’re significant, ranging from political red tape to more mundane issues.
Those working in such an environment should remember, “don’t get frustrated if people are late, don’t get frustrated if the Internet doesn’t work, if there isn’t any electricity,” she said.
Nonetheless, while few international business programs are yet turning a profit in Africa, school officials predicted that with economies across the continent ready to take off and companies searching for well-trained employees, that was about to change. “Thirty years ago, nobody wanted to be in China,” said Dr. Atuahene-Gima, of CEIBS. “Now everybody is here. The same thing is going to happen in Africa.”
Having weathered the financial crisis better than expected, and bright potential for constant economic growth, this new form of education investment will greatly help and benefit the rising new crop of business leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa. This reinforces the correct perception of Africa’s growing economic dynamism.