Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice

Inspiring and informing your business school journey

mobile search icon

A Land Of Opportunity: Business Schools Branch Out To Africa

African economies are growing stronger and demand for MBA programs has increased. Business schools have duly responded, but there are more opportunities than simply financial gain and MBA jobs.

By  Seb Murray

Wed Feb 19 2014

Business schools truly have a global reach. Demand for MBA programs in Africa, a region that has recently set foot on a path to economic prosperity, has never been higher.

And leading schools are scrambling to set-up centres in the sub-Saharan states, while exchange programs are also a more attractive option for today’s MBA student.   

What’s more, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reports that more GMAT tests are being taken in the African region. Throughout 2012-2013, more than 5,000 tests were completed, which is more than in the entire Eastern Europe area.

Although traditionally characterized as high in poverty and unemployment, many African countries are capitalizing on their resource endowments and high international commodity prices.

Africa is expected to see 6 per cent growth this year. And Nigeria, regarded as its’ economic hub, is being billed as one of the next economic powerhouses – referred to as the MINT countries of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria & Turkey.

“Large reserves of human and natural resources, as well as sustained growth, have put Nigeria on a path to become the hub of Africa´s economy,” says Eniola Harrison, Country Director of IE Business School's Nigeria Office.

A recent report by the Economic Commission for Africa champions the remarkable growth the continent has experienced since 2000. “[Africa] has been hailed as the next frontier for opportunity, and a potential global growth pole,” the report says.

Business schools have responded. IE, for example, set up a base in Lagos, Nigeria, last month. The school already has more than 40 Nigerian graduates, and a further nine currently enrolled.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, GDP in Nigeria expanded almost 8 per cent. Renaissance Capital forecasts that the country’s GDP will hit $5 trillion by 2025 – which would make it the world's third-biggest economy.

Amber Wigmore, IE’s Executive Director of Career Services, says the school wants to create more employment opportunities for MBA graduates in the region. “Lagos is a vibrant ecosystem of established Nigerian organizations, multinationals, and start-ups. And IE is committed to fostering new and deepening existing relationships within the country,” she says.

Eniola, from the school’s Nigeria office, agrees. “An integral role of the new office is to foster strategic relationships between IE and leading organizations and companies in Nigeria. Our long-term goal is to have leading Nigerian organizations view IE as a source for top management talent,” she told BusinessBecause.

IESE Business School set-up camp in Africa around 20 years ago. Since then, they have helped establish Lagos Business School and are now working with Strathmore Business School in Nairobi, Kenya.

IESE also offers its’ students The Africa Experiential Week, a program in South Africa and Ghana that offers participants the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in emerging economies.

Students are attracted by the lure of emerging markets, says Paddy Miller, Academic Director of Africa Experiential Week. “Africa is the last remaining emerging market in all its complexity,” he says.

Henley Business School, one of the top MBA ranking schools in the UK, has an African arm, with most workshops taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa. They have recently started developing finance programs in other African countries.

NTU, which has a top-ranking MBA program at Nanyang Business School in Singapore, is launching a new Centre for African Studies by June this year. It will provide MBA students with in-depth insights on the African markets through research, workshops and programs. 

The schools’ Dean, Professor Ravi Kumar, says that there are economic benefits to be reaped in the region. “Africa is the world’s last major frontier for business. The continent stands at the cusp of joining the rest of the world in reaping the fruits of economic and social development, with rapidly growing markets that offer tremendous opportunities to businesses,” he says.

Ghana is also a popular destination for Asian schools. China Europe International Business School has a campus in Accra, the country’s capital city. CEIBS offers an EMBA program and a Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership for Africa program, living up to their tagline: China depth, global breadth.

Ghana had a projected GDP growth of 8 per cent in 2013, and a similar 8.7 per cent is expected this year, driven largely by new oil revenue. Entrepreneurship is key for Ghana and Africa to develop further, says CEIBS Proffesor Mathew Tsamenyi. “Our emphasis is to come up with programs that are actually relevant to the socio-economic development of Ghana. We strongly believe that for Ghana and Africa to develop, entrepreneurship is very key,” he says.

“So far we’ve produced over 120 graduates and they are all in very high positions in their organizations. And their actions and decisions have had positive impact on the bottom line.”

Overseas schools also offer scholarships to educate African students – although criticism is often directed at those that do not return to Africa after completing their MBAs.

London Business School, for example, have MBA scholarships worth full tuition for nationals of sub-Saharan Africa, an award of £20,000 for residents of South Africa, and a further £20,000 award for social entrepreneurs based in Africa.

INSEAD Business School, based in France and Singapore, have six different scholarships for candidates in different regions of Africa. Stanford Business School, based in the U.S, have an MBA Fellowship Program, which pays for MBA tuition and associated fees of around $140,000 for citizens of African countries with financial need.

For those that want to experience Africa first-hand, exchanges are an increasingly popular option. The Fuqua School of Business, a leading U.S school, offers an Outgoing Exchange Program (OEP) to second-year MBA students.

Anjali Menon, a Daytime MBA student, had an exchange to the University of Cape Town last year. She took classes on small business consulting, diversity and management theory. “I was pleased by the quality of classes that were offered to us exchange students, as well as the calibre of our peers in the exchange program,” she said. “I learned a great deal and networked with intelligent individuals.”

There is, of course, a financial benefit to business schools. An increase in demand for MBA programs among African citizens means an increase in applications to the world’s leading schools.

“A lot of our work in Nigeria will focus on creating awareness of these programs as well as communicating the value of IE´s approach to management education,” says IE’s Eniola. “But we will work with talented students in need of financial aid to provide funding assistance.”

And MBA graduates will benefit too, she adds. “Our goal is to provide a support system for alumni by creating opportunities for them to connect and share networks. We believe alumni are our greatest assets,” she says.

It is not just financial gain and career opportunities that await business schools and MBAs in Africa, however. There is a real opportunity to address some of the many challenges facing countries in the continent, says IESE’s Paddy. “What they don’t see are the challenges in countries like Rwanda, how to tackle them, and how they fit into a bigger global picture,” he added.

“There are some very real issues that have to be tackled, and we [IESE] bring those issues to the table.”

Venkatramani Srivathsan, Regional Head, Africa of Olam International, which donated S$1 million to Nanyang’s new centre, says it’s important to take social responsibility into account. "It’s clear that what is also sought is responsible development that takes into account economic and environmental considerations, cultural understanding and the creation of mutual value for the local communities,” he says. 

Amit Lohia, Group Managing Director of Indorama Group, a leading Singaporean investor in the Africa, agrees. "[We] are delighted by the pace of growth and number of opportunities there," he says.

Pearl Esua-Mensah, Deputy Managing Director of UT Bank Limited in Ghana, says that although Africa holds a lot of promise, there are also opportunities to do social good.

“There isn’t enough knowledge about what Africa has and what opportunities there are... the learning experience [at IESE’s Africa Experiential Week] will be great and the opportunities will become clearer,” she says.

“We're waiting to show them what we have in Africa.”