Management education key to economic growth

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THE WORLD Economic Forum’s latest global competitive index ranks South Africa’s business schools as 24th in the world. It speaks of the quality of our 18 business schools, for which SA Business Schools Association (Sabsa) is the collective voice.

As the new president, I aim to make management education and our business schools far more accessible to all sectors – public and private – and to everyone with the desire to learn about leadership and management.

Not enough use is made of our business schools, and I believe that the government, private sector and civil society should be drawing on our knowledge, experience and course offerings.

To increase employment in an economy where unemployment is a perennial problem – the official unemployment rate is at 25.4 percent and youth unemployment is sky high, there needs to be a far greater emphasis on management education initiatives across all sectors.

The need is simple: if we do not develop leaders and managers who can think strategically and manage well, we are shooting in the dark.

Based on this, a key objective during my two-year term of office will be for Sabsa to become more of a lobbying voice in promoting the importance of management education as a key component in employment and economic growth.

Towards achieving this, we will be appointing a part-time executive director who will ensure that Sabsa is well represented on strategic committees and that the importance of management education in South Africa is given the public and media focus it deserves.

What many people do not realise is that business schools are not only for business people. All of our business schools have very diverse student bodies.

In our MBA classes, for example, we emphasise that the strength and benefit of the class is its diversity. We have doctors, lawyers, people from the public and private sector, artists, musicians, accountants and engineers, all wanting to learn the art and science of management, and all bringing their own, rich perspective and experience to the class. For this reason, I believe that the MBA remains the premier business qualification and I would like to see more trade unionists and representatives from non-government organisations and civil action groups doing the MBA, or any of the short courses, postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate degrees that all the business schools offer.

Across all constituencies we need people with management skills and foresight who can critically engage issues of transformation and develop a social compact that helps to lead South Africa forward.

We know that big business alone cannot create anything near the number of jobs we need in South Africa and the continent. It’s obvious that we need to develop the medium and small business sector, and my view is that management education is as important to these sectors as it is to the big business sector.

The Further Education and Training Colleges, for example, are playing an important role in providing skills education across a wide range of sectors. But whether you are building houses or information technology hubs, you still need a business manager with leadership, management, financial and project management capabilities to run the business. The same applies to entrepreneurs.

We also need to address the issue of graduate employment through the development of learnerships and programmes between the business schools and the public and private sectors. There are several success stories in this regard, which demonstrate the power of collaboration. We need to build on these and replicate them around the country.

In the public sector, unless we address the need for management training at all levels of government, we will not solve the challenges of service delivery. To assist with this, we need the government to ensure that the tender process is fit for purpose. At present, the tender format is more appropriate to building contractors or the purchasing of physical goods, rather than providing leadership and management development.

We have been seeking engagement with the government but, in general, we have not received a satisfactory response. We need to find a way of solving this because the success of South Africa, as emphasised in the National Development Plan, is dependent on our leadership and management capacity. In my opinion, this needs to come from our business schools.

Business schools exist to address fundamental questions about the why, what and how of business towards achieving the sustainable growth and development that our economy and all our citizens require. This rests on experienced leadership, the hallmark of which is the ability to steer a course through diverse and complex issues by embracing solid, principled, humanitarian values, while remaining competitive.

In South Africa there are many whys, whats and hows that have to be addressed, including the trigger point around the vast discrepancy in wages, and why perceived inequity in the workplace continues to bedevil the labour relations environment. We need more rigorous engagement about this and what ‘decent work’ means, and how to build trust and respect in the workplace.

As part of the bigger picture into which this fits, we need to identify from where the next growth industries will come, in order to build the economy and address the challenges of unemployment while recognising that we can’t tax the existing taxpayers any more than we are currently doing.

We need to collectively strategise how best to position ourselves in Africa, and how to contribute to the growth and development of the continent’s tremendous potential. We need to address how to reduce the cost of doing business in Africa and how to play our part in developing strong economies in the countries around us, which will bring market benefits and fruitful movement between our countries.

And while we are doing all this, we need to make sure that we have learnt the lesson from the 2008/9 global financial crisis: that while strong economies are imperative for organisations to survive, if they are pursued in a manner that is inequitable and unethical, they will not be sustainable and success will not follow.

As Professor Mervyn King of the King I, II and III reports on corporate governance, the originator of integrated reporting, says: “Today, 80 percent of market cap is comprised of intangible assets, such as the company’s reputation, the integrity of its board and the quality of its management.”

Our business schools are proactively focusing on how companies make their money, and contributing to the advancement of new knowledge and research in a changing business environment.

One of the changes affecting all South African business schools is the raised admission requirement for MBA students, as set by the Council on Higher Education, and which will come into effect from 2016.

To date, business schools have been able to accept students with a Bachelor’s degree and work experience into the MBA course. From 2016, however, only students with a four-year degree, an Honours degree or a postgraduate diploma can be accepted.

Business schools are adapting their programmes and certificate courses to meet this need, and will be offering postgraduate diplomas in order to ensure that access to the MBA is not compromised.

The cost of postgraduate diplomas and degrees is another factor that Sabsa will be proactively addressing with the public and private sectors.

There are many students in South Africa who have the talent and drive to complete the MBA degree. The stark reality is that many are excluded simply because they cannot afford the fees.

There are concessions within the South African income tax system that facilitate part-time study through the payment of study bursaries by employers. However, these opportunities require the active participation of the employer, employee and the educational institution.

To encourage and facilitate this, Sabsa’s appointment of an executive director will prove significant, as part of our contribution to the advancement of management education and skills development in our country, which is precisely what we should be doing.

Article by: Owen Skae

Article Source: BusinessReport

Owen Skae is the new president of Sabsa. He is also the director of Rhodes Business School.