Dr Nicos Nicolaou, CEO of UNICAF, dedicated to increasing access to quality higher education in order to improve and transform the lives of gifted and often underprivileged students, explores the market in Africa for MBAs.
PwC has predicted that by 2040 Africa will be the world’s largest labour force, ahead of India or China. However, it is a workforce with some serious challenges regarding skills and education. Whilst countries such as Japan, Finland and the UK are experiencing a ‘greying trend’ with their ageing populations, the African continent has the majority of the world’s youngest populations; by 2050 the African population is set to double. This places strains on already stretched resources. In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, secondary school enrolment is around 40%, while only 7% of students continue to university.
The low enrolment figures for university are due, in part, to a shortage of degree providers in Africa. MBAs are looked on extremely favourably by employers but are difficult to apply for and even harder to pay for the average African student. As an example, to travel to the UK to complete an MBA course, it would cost around £12,000, plus living costs, transportation and all other associated expenses. To study for an online MBA course from an American university such as Berkeley for example, would cost more than $60.000, which is entirely unrealistic for the majority of African students. Cheaper options are available, via local MBA providers; however, these are often of lower quality and not recognised by the international companies graduates look to find jobs with.
“…that there is a great demand for employees who have a cultural knowledge of the countries in which these companies are operating.”
This creates challenges for international organisations operating in Africa and seeking to recruit local personnel. The UNICAF CEO states, after contacts with such organisations, that there is a great demand for employees who have a cultural knowledge of the countries in which these companies are operating; however, there are very few, adequately qualified, local applicants. With the public sector unable to cope with the growing demand for higher education, the private sector has a crucial role to play. As a result, there are a growing number of institutions offering MBA degrees through online or blended study options, which allow students to remain at home and study, whilst working and earning, or caring for their family.
This is important as the average age of the students we’re seeing enrol with UNICAF is between 25 and 40. Most of these people are already in employment, and want to earn an MBA in order to improve their future career prospects; their studies must accommodate for their other commitments, professional and personal. The chief advantages that they gain from an MBA course are new skills, a better business network and an international perspective of the business world. By earning an MBA they can expect a higher salary and a serious improvement of their long-term career prospects. Crucially, blended study options can be offered at a much lower cost than courses demanding physical attendance at university. Students can now complete an MBA from a private university in affiliation with a US or European university for £3000; this represents approximately an 80% saving on what they would pay to attend a university in the west.
“It is essential that online degree providers are prepared for these eventualities, so that students can pick up their studies again, and not simply fall off the radar.”
Online learning still comes with its own unique set of challenges, as it is dependent largely on the often shaky infrastructure of these countries. Internet provision can vary hugely with students often using a very low bandwidth, or a network liable to repeated drops in service. Similarly we have to consider that many students applying for an online MBA will not be as familiar with a digital platform as their counterparts in the west. It’s crucial that students are provided with adequate support to navigate these challenges or they will simply give up and drop out.
Other difficulties in many countries stem from the political and social instability prevailing which may force students to suspend their studies for periods of time. The same result may come about due to financial constraints or family difficulties. If a student is forced to become their family’s breadwinner, studying at university will have to take a backseat for a time. It is essential that online degree providers are prepared for these eventualities, so that students can pick up their studies again, and not simply fall off the radar. However, we are slowly seeing these challenges being overcome. The determination of students to work around the difficulties they face, even if they have to take a two-hour bus ride just to hand in an assignment, is also commendable. With an increasingly educated population and a rapidly growing economy, demand for high quality MBA courses is definitely set to increase across Africa.