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Re: Do We Need Harvard in Africa?

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Thursday, March 11, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013

Guy PfeffermannIn a recent article on MBA COZA, Walter Baets, Director of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, takes exception to a statement I made in the September 23 online issue of Business Week.

The Business Week article dealt with opportunities that US business schools see, as African markets are growing more rapidly than the American economy.

Under the heading: "A HUGE, UNMET DEMAND FOR QUALITY", the author cites me as saying: "Business education is the fastest-growing single academic activity in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is immensely popular and very much in need, but the problem is that all but a few of the business schools are fly-by-night or not very good” and "There is a huge, unmet demand for quality, so I suspect that more Western business schools may come in, since there is a market."

Walter Baets’ interprets me as saying that "a growing [African] middle class would demand a more western-style business school experience” and asks: "Or do they just want quality education that is relevant in their country (other than if they want the education to get away out of the country)? I think we should not confuse good business schools with western style business schools. I am not sure that a business school based on fly-in/fly-out faculty really contributes to the development of the local economy.”

My statement was not a value judgment, but leaving that aside, I very much welcome Baets’ comment because it raises a number of important issues.

First, Baets puts his finger on the key point: what is needed is quality education that is relevant to Africa. I couldn’t agree more with him.

Second, he agrees that Africa has a huge unmet demand for quality in this area, and exhorts all parties involved: "let us build this up then”. Bravo! Indeed, the main thrust of the organization which I founded and am directing, the Global Business School Network, is enhancing the quality of business education for developing countries, marrying global best practice to local relevance ( GBSN is a partner organization of the Association of African Business Schools, with whom we cooperate very closely, in part so as to ensure local relevance. GBSN capacity-building programmes put local schools in the driver’s seat. They are the ones who govern the focus and content of GBSN programmes and are our ultimate clients (see list of GBSN program schools).

Two other points made by Baets are, in my view, open to discussion.

The decision by CEIBS, the China Europe International Business School, to start operations in Ghana brought up the question of development impact. The main question, to me, is whether CEIBS and similar schools intend to develop local African faculty or whether they plan to operate on a "fly-in-fly-out” (FIFO) model. Developing local faculty is one of the main contributions to development which top schools and their faculty can make. Ideally, this should be an integral part of their strategies. It is only by "producing” larger numbers of quality faculty that Africa will overcome its dramatic shortage.

As to the impact of foreign schools on local ones, I suspect that initially they will tap different markets. To cite an example from Asia, one FIFO school charges executive education participants four times more than a major local school, and thus attracts a different clientele. If however they tap the same markets, then I would see foreign competition as a spur to the imagination of local schools’ leaders which will raise the level of quality and relevance overall.

Lastly, Baets questions the relevance of "Western-style business schools” in Africa. A whole range of views was expressed about this by participants in the September EFMD/AABS conference, which we both attended, and I am looking forward to discussing the topic further with him and other deans and faculty of African business schools, but preferably around a beer.


Read Walter Baets' article

This response was also published on


Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO and founder of the Global Business School Network.

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