The IMF expects the region to enjoy economic growth of 6% in 2014. But the recent Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea highlight the continent’s unique challenges. Moody’s Investors Service warns that the virus could wreak significant economic and fiscal damage to west African countries.
Italian Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore business school has delayed the start-date of its Sierra Leone-based MBA because of public health concerns. The school already launched programs in Kenya in 2011, and Accra and Ghana last year.
But more than 40,000 GMAT tests were taken in Africa and the Middle East between 2012-2013, with more taken in Africa than in Eastern Europe, according to Graduate Management Admissions Council data.
Business schools remain confident. For some, Africa is the final frontier for management education.
“There is huge market potential for business schools,” says Dr. Barbara Drexler, director of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management's central African operations. “As many international companies open offices, branches or plants in Africa, the demand for business education increases,” she adds.
However, there is a lack of trained leadership talent which these companies can hire.
Christa Sanders, director of Webster University's Ghana campus, points out that high unemployment rates in the region mean those with MBA degrees are in demand, while schools are catering for Africa’s emerging middle class.
But she adds that there are few options when it comes to business education compared to in the West.
Schools like Webster are filling a gap in supply. Germany’s Frankfurt launched a Master's in microfinance in Kinshasa in 2009, and last year started a joint executive MBA with the Université Protestante au Congo.
Demand has been enormous. About 100 candidates apply for 35 seats on the Master’s program, and 85% of graduates secure job offers, the school said.
Each school will book between €35,000 and €53,500 in surplus revenue for the inaugural year. But should demand continue to increase, tuition could jump by two-thirds next year, with both schools earning €110,000 to €120,000.
Other schools have followed Frankfurt’s lead. Last month, HEC Paris struck deals with Ivory Coast’s state departments and a federation of private companies to lead executive education programs for hundreds of managers. Programs of a similar scope typically generate €1 million in revenue.
Duke Corporate Education runs training programs for African clients including banks and mining companies. It opened its first regional office in South Africa in 2007.
Since then, legions of other US and European schools have opened campuses across Africa. Lancaster University Management School began teaching its Global Executive MBA program in Ghana in July.
Professor John Grainger, provost at Lancaster University Ghana, says that the school wanted to ensure that Ghanaians could access world-class education without travelling abroad.
Many commentators have frowned upon the fly-in, fly-out model in which professors spend a few weeks teaching before returning to their home countries. But Professor Steve Bradley, Lancaster's pro vice-chancellor, says that faculty who teach the program bring a wealth of experience from countries such as Malaysia and Zambia.
A more sustainable approach is to develop programs with established African universities. Spain's IESE Business School started in Africa two decades ago and helped to establish Lagos Business School, and more recently began collaborating with Strathmore Business School in Kenya.
Webster's partnership with Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore helped them to establish its Accra location with 40 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate programs in business and international relations. The school expects 150 students to enter class next year.
Such international focuses ensures future mobility for African citizens, says Christa. “Although there are a number of options at local universities, I believe most African executives are likely to pursue programs at international institutions,” she adds.
Dr. Barbara thinks that local schools only focus on the business theory. “Students have superb understanding of macroeconomic models, but they struggle to implement that theory at their workplace,” she says.
Frankfurt set-up the Centre Congolais Allemand du Microfinance six years ago. It aims to prepare students for a career in the emerging financial sector of Congo.
Dr. Barbara adds that the centre enables local, domestic or international companies to educate and train their executives, rather than just catering for independent citizens.
It is not just corporate Africa buying into Western business education. Entrepreneurship is becoming a defining part of many of the region’s business sectors.
China Europe International Business School senses this demand. It launched a program for female entrepreneurs in Ghana in 2012, and has since expanded into Nigeria and Kenya.
CEIBS Professor Mathew Tsamenyi says that the school has produced more than 120 graduates.
“Our emphasis is to come up with programs that are relevant to the socio-economic development of Ghana. We strongly believe that for Ghana and Africa to develop, entrepreneurship is key,” he adds.
But there are distinct cultural challenges. Many believe that schools cannot succeed by using American or European course material. Courses and learning must be tailored to each individual region.
In Ghana, for example, the local education system does not encourage dialogue or debates with faculty, says Christa. The US education system is quite different – there is much classroom discussion, and challenging a professor’s view is often encouraged.
“Faculty may find it initially problematic to fully engage students,” Christa says.
She adds that higher tuition fees may also be problematic, but that many Western schools offer scholarships to help saddle the cost of tuition.
But many see education as essential to sustain Africa’s economic growth. Christa says: “A business degree not only opens the door to future career opportunities but also encourages the development of future business leaders. These leaders… Are critical to Africa's future growth and stability.”