Africa's thirst for business training: does Africa have too few skilled managers and business leaders? Apparently, but if the burgeoning number of business colleges in Africa is anything to go by then the situation could be reversed in a few short years. Tom Nevin reports.

Author:Nevin, Tom

If there was ever any doubt about the direction South Africa was taking in the rebuilding of its business management skills base since 1994, it has been soundly dispelled by the fact that the number of business schools in the country has grown in the past 10 years from seven to over 50.

This dramatic rise outstrips several fold increases in the number of any other technical, professional or academic training. As a result, South Africa has become a global leader in international business education in just 10 years.

Attracting students from all over Africa and many parts of the developed world, South African business schools are meeting "the enormous challenges and opportunities for management education created by emerging market conditions" according to a new study by professors Mike Ward, director of Wits Business School (WBS) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Saul Klein of the Faculty of Business at the University of Victoria in Australia.

"The South African experience offers both lessons and cautions for other business schools in other emerging markets," they say.

As the South African economy began to crumble under international pressure in the last decade of apartheid rule, qualified managers fled to more secure positions abroad. The brain drain was appalling in the harm it inflicted, and in the time it took for the wounds to heal.

Until 1994, South Africa was regarded as a pariah state in the global system. A generation of managers had developed in a largely despotic environment, with little understanding of and experience with demanding global customers and aggressive foreign competitors.

Business had developed practices that operated well in a closed economy, but was largely unprepared for the vigorous nature of international competition.


Risks were regarded as experiences to be avoided, rather than managed, and cosy, cartel-like arrangements were common domestically. While world export volumes boomed in the mid-1990's, South Africa actually lost market share in world markets following its reintegration into the world economy.

Ironically, at the same time, the political turnaround intensified the brain-drain. Black South Africans were also disadvantaged by an appalling education system (see panel). The South African system of education for black children led to students being ranked last in international comparisons.

While the brain drain has not entirely transformed itself into a brain...

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