By Guy Pfeffermann
During the last decade a team of researchers interviewed executives in thousands of firms in twenty countries, including hospitals and schools, about the quality of management in these organisations – the most comprehensive such research ever undertaken. The researchers found that, when they sorted the twenty countries by levels of affluence (gross domestic product per person), the two rankings – quality of management and affluence – matched exactly (Bloom et al, 2012).
In other words, there is a clear relationship between average quality of management in a country and the poverty or prosperity of its population.
Of course, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Fortunately, the same research team ran a randomised management experiment on 28 large textile plants in India. The firms with the large improvements in management also saw large causal improvements in productivity. The research suggests that continuing such improvements over 20 years would generate five additional percentage points to India’s annual economic growth – a momentous improvement over current performance (Bloom, Eifert et al.).
In Africa, where according to the African Management Initiative there is only one business school for every 10 million people, there is a drastic shortage of the management talent needed to make these kinds of gains. Not just industry, but sectors such as health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, even tourism, lag behind because there aren’t enough people with the management skills necessary to build companies and deliver services effectively. And on a continent where jobs in the formal economy are often scarce, having the skills to run a successful small business can be a major factor in many people’s ability to feed their families.
All of this points to an acute need for more and better management education throughout Africa. However, the traditional model in developed countries, where it requires US$50,000 annually to come to a campus and listen to lectures for 15 hours a week, is both impractical and uncompetitive.
In Africa, and across the globe, emerging technologies and rapidly expanding access to them will have an enormous impact on generating efficiencies to bring down the now prohibitive costs of management education. New technologies will go well beyond simply delivering content in new ways and may ultimately lead to a complete reorganisation and refocusing of educational institutions everywhere.
One way to conceptualise on-going changes is that the traditional structure, in which universities (including business schools) supplied the entire value chain from knowledge-generation to course delivery, is breaking down. Instead, specialised players are emerging. Knowledge generation is very costly, and only well-endowed schools or schools that have access to sufficient public funds can afford that ‘stage of production’. Business schools are becoming ‘pedagogic engineers’, whose role it is to adapt knowledge that is generated elsewhere to local needs. Soon faculties will be lecturing less and tutoring more, along the lines of the ‘flipped classroom’ model in which students are assigned videos and online materials for their homework, and come to class in order to discuss what they saw with their teachers.
The bigger question for Africa is how educators, industry, development agencies and other stakeholders can work together to re-imagine the development and delivery of management education in light of the technological advances and economic realities of the modern age. With these disruptive forces at work, it may be possible as never before to make management education accessible, affordable and relevant to millions of Africans across the continent.
Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO of the Global Business School Network, a non-profit organisation with a mission to improve management education for the developing world, which he founded in 2003 when he was serving as the Chief Economist of the International Finance Corporation at the World Bank.
“New Models of Management Education for Africa” is one of the twelve opinion pieces featured in the eLearning Africa 2013 Report. To read more about the annual publication, please visit: http://elearning-africa.com/media_library_publications_ela_report_2013.php.