Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Business Education: What Has Changed?

By Antony Jongwe

On October 2, 2009, I wrote an article entitled “Strengthening Business Education” in which I long situated an agenda for a quality improvement agenda in the burgeoning business education sector in Zimbabwe.

Antony Itai Jongwe
Antony Itai Jongwe

This article was followed up with similar articles which suggested the direction that this agenda had to follow. For instance, my article of 4 February 2011 suggested that MBA programmes currently offered by Zimbabwean universities need to be entrepreneurial in line with global trends.

Currently, the following universities offer advanced business-related qualifications: Midlands State University, Zimbabwe Open University, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Africa University, University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology, Bindura University of Science Education, Solusi University, and the Women’s University in Africa (Jongwe, 2011).

All over the world, MBA graduates are highly regarded as effective entrepreneurs who have created some of today’s notable businesses in various countries. Significantly, MBA graduates especially here in Zimbabwe, are increasingly providing leadership in various spheres of society from government, business to not-for-profit organisations.

This is because the MBA curriculum is not only theoretical but has a heavy leaning on application of business skills. This is made possible through the case study approach of learning which is at the core of the MBA programme structure.

For this reason, MBA graduates the world over are renowned for their analytical depth. Lately, there has been renewed debate on the effectiveness of the MBA degree.

For instance, the current acting Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education is reported to have taken a swipe against local universities for offering a generic MBA degree which is not underpinned by a “knowledge and skills gap analysis” of the requirements of industry and commerce (Newsday, 9 January 2013). Indeed, debate on the effectiveness of the MBA is neither new nor misplaced.

One of the leading management theorists of our time, Henry Mintzberg, made forceful but balanced arguments on MBA effectiveness in his book Managers, Not MBAs.

The main arguments advanced the world revolve around the need for on-going reformation of the MBA curriculum by business schools and university authorities to strengthen the caliber of MBA graduates.

All over the world, business education seems to have expanded exponentially with more and more universities offering the MBA degree amongst other high level business courses. However, this surge in business education courses needs to be monitored if quality standards are to be assured.

For Zimbabwe, it is only hoped that the creation of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZCHE) spurs this compliance orientation. There is no doubt that the country has lost significant skills, particularly in the academia, over the last few years with serious implications for quality standards.

It is precisely because of the need to assure the integrity of business education that there is growing recognition of the need for accrediting business education to assure quality standards regardless of context.

A major area of this aspect is admission requirements for entry into an advanced business education course such as the MBA degree programme. It is precisely in this area that the Wits Business School has taken a leadership position in Africa’s nascent business education sector.

Globally, and especially for American business schools, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) has played a pivotal role in standardising admission requirements for business education.

GMAC has been responsible for administering the widely recognised Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), whose test scores now form the basis of admission into graduate business schools.

In South Africa, the Wits MBA and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business MBA currently form the only two such programmes to rely on the GMAT scores for assessing admissibility into their schools.

Sadly, for Zimbabwe, there is no business school that is using the GMAT admissions instruments, let alone has been invited to to become a member of the respected GMAC.

While this is not to make a value judgement on the quality of the programmes offered by these business schools, it serves as a big reminder to our higher education leaders to start thinking imaginatively around strengthening their programmes through international bench-marking.

Currently, most local universities offering business education programmes set their own admissions criteria.

While some business schools have clearly strict admissions criteria which may include among other things having a first degree and proven leadership experience, some business schools do not require such things.

This sets obvious dissonance in just trying to come up with a common benchmark on assessing the correct market value of these business programmes.

Another glaring weakness of the current business education framework in Zimbabwe is obviously the evident capacity limitations ranging from small faculty sizes to inadequate teaching and learning resources.

Modern-day business education is premised on sculpting business leaders with a global perspective and this entails ensuring that business schools are able to tap into latest research material from all over the world. It also means having the right size of faculty in place to champion a research agenda.

It also entails having close collaborations with other business schools globally. Clearly, all these things are lacking in Zimbabwe at this juncture and there is need for remedial action. There is no doubting the importance of advanced business education.

This is attested by the very huge number of institutions globally offering advanced business education, especially the MBA qualification. Yet, advanced business education does not come cheap.

In the USA, an MBA qualification from a top-tier university like Harvard Business School can set you back by US$79 000 per year.

In fact, there is now an accepted perception that the quality of advanced business education, particularly the MBA, is determined by its cost — the costlier it gets, the better the quality.

Thus, investments in advanced business education have to be justified by quality which makes it imperative for business schools to strengthen their processes, systems and procedures. For a start, it is important that local business schools form an association (if that has not been done) to serve as a coordinating arm on issues common to them.

Eventually, this association can then be given the requisite technical capacity to actually regulate the sector in close cooperation with such key stakeholders as the ZIMCHE, National Manpower Advisory Council (Namaco), the Zimbabwe MBA Association and the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.

In the medium term, we expect to see proper rankings of business education programmes in Zimbabwe. These are critical in talent management programmes for most employer organisations.

Antony Jongwe is Secretary General of the Zimbabwe MBA Association. He can be contacted via e-mail: [email protected]