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How prestigious is an MBA in South Africa?
How prestigious is an MBA in South Africa? Well, to answer that question we have to ask two more questions. Why are you considering an MBA? And, at which institution do you wish to study.
MBA degrees have become ubiquitous. They are offered by many different institutions and each is accredited by the SA Council for Higher Education. But they are not all equal.
A quality MBA at a top institution is a life-changing event. Studies and anecdotes abound describing how the hard work and new insights gained in the right MBA have brought graduates to new insights about themselves, enhanced their competencies and have opened up undreamed career opportunities.
An MBA is not a get rich quick scheme. It is also not for everyone. But for those who have done the research, and weighed up the opportunities, and have carefully planned their careers; it opens up a world of success and self-fulfilment. It all depends on how you put your MBA to work and the value you create.
Why do an MBA?
The widespread attractiveness of an MBA degree is its focus on all the disciplines required to run a business: business strategy, finance, accounting, marketing, operations, technology, organisational behaviour, economics and entrepreneurship. Often candidates considering an MBA have studied and worked in a particular discipline – accounting, engineering, IT or law. However, they are frustrated because they don’t understand the bigger picture of how all the disciplines come together. They want to be able to credibly talk finance to the financial director, marketing to the marketing director and HR to the HR director.
In 2016 the Graduate Management Admission Council undertook a study of 5,900 MBA applicants in 15 different countries. They wanted to understand why candidates want to pursue a graduate degree in management.
The following table summarises the results:
|What candidates were looking for from an MBA
|Recognition and respect
|Achievement in the global stage
|Financial improvement and career advancement
|Reinvent themselves and unblock their careers
|Improve socio-economic status
|To be considered as an expert
|Entrepreneurial social impact
Maybe you can see yourself in one or more of the categories above. You will also see from the table above that an MBA qualification is a powerful opportunity to fulfil your life’s ambition, probably more so than any narrow specialist qualification, whether you want money, or respect or wish to make an impact.
MBA graduates have reported that they were able to get that next big promotion, and were able to change their career because they understood how the different functions in a business work together, and how businesses should be managed. They also reported greater personal confidence and a better understanding of how to manage a sustainable and ethically sound business.
So, if your MBA opens the doors for you to find a role where you are fulfilled, your expertise is appreciated, and you are making a valuable contribution to the business, to society, and to your family, then you are a person of consequence. For many people, that is exactly what they have achieved as a result of completing an MBA.
Another great benefit of an MBA is the personal network built over the course of the programme. The long hours and mental effort builds a camaraderie that lasts long after the graduation. This is a very powerful outcome benefit of an MBA programme. Graduates go on to develop stellar careers and fill important positions. A strong personal MBA network allows members to tap the power of this network, in order to seek advice, deal with a problem or get access to decision-makers. This is a significant determinant of the prestige of an MBA degree. A fellow graduate, years later, will take your call, purely because you sweated it out together on the programme.
Where should you study?
The prestige of an MBA is bound up in the institution conferring the degree. The MBA degree is usually the flagship programme of most business schools.
An MBA is not for the fainthearted, it requires the stamina of an ox and the determination of a dung beetle. Most MBA students are in a career, and many cannot afford full-time study. So, the task is to find an institution what can offer a part-time or online offering or a combination of both. When selecting an online MBA, it’s important to test the user experience of the learning platform: ease of navigation, responsiveness, and access to resources.
Another consideration is evaluating the quality of the faculty teaching on the programme. This applies to both full time as well as visiting faculty. Are they leaders in their field? Have they published authoritative books and journal articles? Anyone can scrape together content from a variety books and media, and then prepare a set of lectures. It’s quite another thing for a top academic to deliver this in a dynamic format that pushes the limits of cognitive ability and understanding. Have a look at the visiting or adjunct faculty lecturing on the programme. A business school that hosts leading international academics as guest lecturers is delivering a highly prestigious qualification.
South African MBA programmes are particularly sought after. They are of good quality, and significantly cheaper than leading northern hemisphere business schools. The range of challenges faced by business in South Africa: culture, economics, history and politics, makes for a highly stimulating environment for anyone who is keen to build an international career in business. That is one of the reasons why South African MBA graduates have done so well in many countries around the world.
If you, like many, are already in employment, and you want to make the investment in an MBA, you have a number of options to consider.
A full-time course will get it done quicker but there will be considerable family sacrifices, as well as the opportunity cost of being out of the workplace for at least a year.
Part-time is a good option, but again – is a part-time or an online option most suitable.
If you have a job where you don’t usually have to work late, a part-time course is definitely to be considered. If, on the other hand you travel a lot and have to stay on after hours, then an online course will probably work best for you.
An online option allows you to study at overseas business schools, and this may be attractive to you if you are contemplating a global career.
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The employer perspective
An MBA is particularly relevant for those who wish to lead an organisation, understand the challenges of business, apply best practices and solve complex problems in the private and public sector. Employers will be looking for leadership qualities in addition to the technical and other skills.
Employers expect MBA graduates to think critically and solve complex problems. They regard the degree not only as a qualification but as a proxy for hard work, ambition to get ahead and a capacity to make sacrifices to achieve big goals. Putting in the effort to complete an MBA sends the signal that you are ambitious and that you are hungry for success. An MBA is a very versatile qualification because the knowledge and skills gained are applicable to any organisation regardless of the sector.
Your qualification will get you in the door, but it’s how you use the qualification that will determine your success. Traditionally MBAs have come across as arrogant and demanding in interviews and career discussions. It is better to stress what your personal contribution will be rather than brandishing your qualification as a reason for your appointment to some future role. Your status and authority will be determined by your leadership, problem-solving and your personal credibility.
What’s right for you
Studying an MBA involves mastering a broad spectrum of business-related topics, but the real value lies in the personal growth benefits of being exposed to leadership competencies, combined with analytical and critical thinking. Once you graduate with an MBA, regardless of where you plan to build your career, your degree will increase your business credibility. An MBA will always add value, but you will have to clarify your motives for embarking on one. If your purpose is purely to get a high paying job with an important title, you are bound to be disappointed. Once you are in a role where you can make a profound contribution to the financial and reputational rewards will follow.
An advanced degree will always add to your prestige, but you have to do your homework. It is not so much a matter of selecting a business school with a good name but selecting a school that is right for your purpose and preferred mode of study. The real advantage of an MBA is its proven versatility. With an MBA, you can pursue many careers in a variety of fields and you will have the opportunity to advance faster to better-paid jobs.
How prestigious is an MBA in South Africa?
It is an extremely prestigious qualification, but as we have seen, its real prestige lies in what you do with your degree and what you do with your life.
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