“Online MBA programs are the future of graduate education in Africa,” says Adesuwa Obariase, a Nigeria-based student on Warwick Business School’s Distance Learning (DL) MBA.
Originally from neighboring Benin, Adesuwa chose an online program over a classroom-based course. And she sees many African MBA applicants looking to do the same.
“African applicants are not ready to put their lives on hold for an entire year to pursue MBAs in the UK, Europe or the US,” she says. “With the online program I am able to continue with my work, maintain my family life and I don't need to relocate.”
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council's (GMAC) 2015 prospective student survey, 15% of MBA candidates in Africa consider online programs; higher than the 12% global average.
Out of the 1488 active students on Warwick’s Distance Learning MBA, over 200 are based in Africa, and roughly 175 are from Africa. The maximum three-year course attracts around 45 African students each year.
“We have seen a constant stream of uptake on the DL MBA from African students,” says John Colley, associate dean of post-experience masters at Warwick Business School. “[The DL MBA] removes geographical barriers; [it’s] a way to study at the University of Warwick from anywhere in the world.”
In Sub-Saharan Africa’s big urban centres - in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya in particular - economic growth is strong and management skills in high demand. An online MBA is a more affordable, flexible alternative to the traditional campus-based course; giving African professionals access to a high quality of business education they may struggle to find locally.
“Higher education in Africa is lacking past the ‘four-year’ stage,” explains Brian Owoseni, a Nigeria-born MBA student on Kelley School of Business’ online MBA. “Masters-level programs generally don’t exist, so the MBA provides linkage with the Western world. And since Western education is very valued, it provides an advantage.”
Institutionalized rote learning means African applicants are often less prepared for the strains of an MBA application than their foreign counterparts. Namely, GMAC's GMAT, which tests reasoning and problem solving skills rather than memorization.
In 2015, the average GMAT score for African residents was 450, well below the global average at 554. In Nigeria, it's 415.
GMAC’s director of business development in Africa, Ronald Sibert, admits that number of African GMAT test takers has remained relatively flat over the past five years: “We see that African candidates often avoid the test out of fear that they cannot perform well,” he says.
Yet while Kelley’s online MBA requires applicants to submit a GMAT or GRE score, many don’t. IE Business School’s online MBA – ranked the best in the world by the Financial Times – offers its own admission test, the ieGAT, as an alternative.
The ieGAT requires no prior preparation. It tests decision-making, presenting test-takers with real-life situations they’re likely to face in everyday professional life.
For Onyekachi Eke, head of IE’s Nigeria Office, graduate business education in Africa will profit most from online programs which provide the opportunity for real, live interaction: “The real future lies in blended programs,” she says. “Whether through intermittent face-to-face sessions at a physical location or virtually, through video conferencing or virtual reality.”
Many of the top online MBAs are not 100% online. IE, Warwick and Kelley’s online programs all include face-to-face networking weeks on campus. For Africa-based students the long-haul travelling is an extra expense.
Birmingham Business School’s online MBA however, is delivered entirely online. It waives the GMAT. 23% of its students come from Africa, including countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Its fully-synchronous live sessions serve as an effective alternative to the classroom environment. And a credible one: this year, Birmingham’s became the first fully-online MBA to receive accreditation from AMBA, the Association of MBAs.
With developments in educational technology – EdTech – interactivity and networking opportunities on online programs, are no longer a source of concern.
The rise of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) means there are free alternatives to online business programs available. But credibility is lacking, and the completion rate is small – less than 13% according to a University of Warwick study - with students lacking the support offered by a school program.
“Online MBAs are now able to provide the same quality of education and networking that traditional campus-based programs provide,” says Ehigie Uwagboe, a Nigerian student on Kelley’s online MBA.
“The MBA sets African professionals apart from their colleagues, and provides an opportunity to compete globally.”