Open evenings; chatting to alumni, faculty and current students; visits to the business school; word of mouth; research – there are a number of ways to investigate which business school is best for you. Rankings, accreditation and faculty research output are also critical considerations when it comes to making a well informed choice. Ultimately, it boils down to making sure you do the homework.
Read The Surveys
Prospective students need to choose wisely when it comes to selecting the right business school, says Tom Ryan, Associate Professor at the UCT Graduate School of Business. “A good place to start would be to look at surveys that hold institutions up for scrutiny,” he says. “International and local rankings and accreditations make a statement about the quality of an MBA programme and an institution. These reviews are particularly insightful when they are global, as they provide a global benchmark for what is on offer herein South Africa. For a prospective student, having an internationally recognised qualification may be desirable, particularly if they plan to work in other countries.”
For the prospective student who may be considering business schools overseas, understanding what South African schools offer in relation to their foreign counterparts can also break down preconceptions that “if it’s from Europe and America it must be better”.“International rankings and accreditations can help demonstrate to all SouthAfricans that we have the high standards and academic talent right here at home to match any business school in the world,” Ryan points out. From the experience of the UCT Graduate School of Business, which recently obtained its fifth consecutive ranking in the Financial Times Global MBA Top 100 in 2009 and ranked notably as the best value for money MBA in the world, this has certainly been the case. International comparisons such as this, in addition to international accreditations, have served not only to increase the numbers of local applicants, but also now begun to draw more international students to the UCT GSB.
Look Beyond The Rankings
Rankings and accreditations offer abroad perspective of the quality of a business school, but when it comes to selecting the right school, it is critical that applicants are also aware of alot more if they want to choose wisely.
“Bear in mind that a ranking is a relative assessment and there is very little that differentiates the top schools,” Ryan says. “A much deeper level of investigation is needed to understand different business schools’ areas of specialisation and excellence.They have different strengths and capabilities and each offers a unique value proposition and experience. Simply put, even the best rankings can’t tell you which institution suits your needs best. Prospective students need to beginwith a self-assessment and examine their motives carefully as well as their goals.”
Make The Right Choice
Ryan lists five elements that will help the prospective students choose the right school for their needs:
1. Understand the pedagogy – the learning methodology – of the business school in question.There are varying models for developing people and some may prefer didactic lectures and exams, while others may offer a greater level of classroom interaction and peer-to-peer learning.
2. Enquire about the average age and experience levels of the MBA class at the business school. At the UCT GSB, for example, the average MBA student age is 30 and most have over three years’ work experience and a successful track record. The school believes it’s important for a richer learning environment and higher levels of social learning.
3. Deciding on the right delivery format of the MBA is important. Prospective students need to understand what their needs are – are they looking for a full-time commitment or would a modular or part-time option work better? A part-time or modular model can help overcome funding challenges for some, enabling them to work and study at the same time; others may prefer a full-time MBA for the more immersive experience.
4. Ensure that the curriculum is relevant to your needs. Is the school engaging with the current challenges and opportunities in your areas of career interest?
5.Interact with alumni and harness information on a particular school to better understand the inner workings of the MBA experience. Speak to alumni and get their perspective and look at what employers say about the graduates they recruit. QS World MBA Tour and TopMBA.com conduct annual research of 400 business schools, 50 000 MBA applicants and 500 MBA recruiters, and this data can be useful as well. Their latest MBA Employer survey revealed that a small cluster of business schools in South Africa are demonstrating prominence amongst international employers.
The CHE Benchmark
A survey by topmba.com showed that between 1998 and 2000 the number of MBA graduates in South Africa increased by 80%. As a result of this, a plethora of new institutions entered the market to cash in on the demand.
As a result of the explosion in the number of institutions offering the MBA, in 2004, South Africa’s Council on Higher Education (CHE) completed an extensive re-accreditation of Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degrees offered in the country. The process has raised the standard of local MBA programmes.
The CHE’s MBA accreditation has improved the standing of South African MBAs internationally, with exhaustive measures undertaken to ensure that MBA programmes are up to scratch.