Ascending to the position of Principal at the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) came as both a surprise and an honour, more so because I would be stepping into the shoes of the larger-than-life predecessor, the founder, late Professor Yusuf Karodia.
In this time of utmost wonder and bewilderment, one has to find meaning in the Machiavellian advice that “a prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it”. Any kind of reflection about the opportunities and challenges presented by this appointment forces one’s thinking to oscillate between the past, the present and the future.
Looking back at my childhood years, my educational journey benefitted significantly from being born of educated parents who attached importance to education. Growing up in a small village outside Pietermaritzburg, I could not help noticing that many children started school much later and were, therefore, much older than most of their classmates. Others dropped out even before finishing primary school. This proved to be very confusing to me: was school important or not? When I had just finished standard four (6th year of school) a teenage girl from the neighbourhood approached me, proudly waving her Junior Certificate (10th grade equivalent) in the air and telling anyone who cared to listen that, if it was not for my mother’s urging, she would not have believed she could obtain a junior certificate. It struck me that a simple act of pointing someone in the right direction can actually change the way they see themselves and the choices they make. Such recollections reinforce in my mind the role of education in changing lives for the better.
As Mandela rightfully stated, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” For this statement to be true, however, there are critical elements and processes that should constitute that education. Some of these issues dominate my thinking about educational leadership.
- Accessibility and affordability: Making education inaccessible was one of the pillars of Apartheid. The curiously-named ‘Extension of Higher Education Act of 1959’ was promulgated to prevent the so-called non-whites from attending the established and well-resourced white universities. It is inspiring to lead an institution like MANCOSA, an institution founded on the principle of accessibility and affordability aimed at opening up opportunities for all in the field of business management education, and later, in other fields as well. In this day and age, digital accessibility has become a real potential barrier to education due to prevailing societal inequalities. An inclusive digital learning environment is non-negotiable and represents an institutional commitment to justice.
- Agility in the midst of disruption: In a rapidly changing world a static education becomes obsolete and largely irrelevant for today and tomorrow. This could be a contributing factor to the phenomenon of unemployed graduates. A stagnant, poorly-managed economy will, of course, exacerbate the situation. One gratifying recent experience in my educational journey is how MANCOSA pivoted and continued to offer quality education during the current pandemic. Amongst the innovative initiatives to enable students to be in step with the changes is the compulsory Online Student Learning Management System (LMS) Induction and Orientation module. During this expository orientation, students learn and understand MANCOSA rules, procedures and policies in connection with login, portal navigation, submission of assignments, requesting extensions and re-marks, taking the online summative assessments (OSA) and the use of MANCOSA Communication Tools. Disruptions of any kind bring about massive discomfort that present a serious temptation to advance reasons why change cannot and should not happen. A campaign to oppose online teaching and learning, for example, should not be confused with a drive to ensure that online education reaches and benefits all. Self-defeating resistance to change is avoided when, at an early stage, room is created for constructive engagement with all affected stakeholders around the changes.
- Student success: At a private higher education provider like MANCOSA, students trust us with their hard-earned money, and the institution has to provide a supportive environment that makes success an achievable goal for all determined students. A body of research on ‘effective schools’ popular in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, listed as one of the contributors to the success of students the expectation of success expressed by teachers. This is true at all levels of education. In the segregated universities we attended during apartheid, this was a common strategy in the psychological warfare waged by white lecturers against black students, especially in science courses. Statements like “I expect less than half of you to make it to the second year of this course,” were common. Most of the time female students bore the brunt of such intimidating comments. MANCOSA’s transformative contribution in society is demonstrated by the fact that of the more than 51 000 students in the system between January 2018 and January 2021, 58% are female. Whilst this represents significant progress, more needs to be done, especially because in postgraduate qualifications and in programmes with a technical orientation like IT, female participation still falls below 50%. To further provide focused support to students, the Data Analysis Unit and the Academic Support Department have conducted a comprehensive “At Risk” study to not only define risk and factors contributing to it, but also to create early detection that triggers interventions that support students before they experience failure. Many students can push through academic barriers if supported.
- Leadership: Leaders create an environment wherein all staff members can, to the best of their abilities, contribute towards the fulfilment of the institution’s raison d’etre. During a pandemic, it is not only operations and systems that are disrupted but also human lives. Leadership should always have the presence of mind to address both the people’s concerns and the task-related challenges. Over the decades of my work experience I have learned that situational and landscape awareness is crucial and so is the ability to listen to people around you since ‘swarm intelligence’ always trumps individual thinking. Learning, for the leader and staff at all levels, is a lifetime engagement. In a robust regulatory environment, the responsibility to preserve academic integrity is something that I see as paramount in my role.
- Civic Engagement: A higher education institution, private or public, plays an important role in society. It produces graduates that possess skills and knowledge needed for societal development. An institution of higher learning should be oriented towards being a force of positive change in society, especially in addressing challenges like those of illiteracy, poverty, environmental degradation, intolerance of diversity etc. This is easier said than done, and may need partnerships like many societal endeavours. MANCOSA has a Social Purpose Initiatives Committee chaired by the Principal. This committee coordinates all community projects, including the flagship Million Books Project that supplies mobile libraries to primary schools in disadvantaged areas in order to address low reading levels in these under-resourced schools.
These are just some of the issues that come to mind as one takes over the reins at MANCOSA, an institution that strives for excellence in its offerings. To keep it on this upward trajectory will not be a walk in the park but it has to be done, and the culture of innovation and hard work, cultivated and nurtured by the founder, will stand me in good stead. Leading in a changing environment often requires that we abandon what has worked well in the past and embark on an unchartered path that takes us to new heights; it is often daunting but requires a leap of the will.
MANCOSA, a leading provider of management programmes through supported distance learning in Southern Africa, is renowned for its MBA offering, which is ranked among the 10 of the best MBAs in Africa. A member of Honoris United Universities – the first Pan-African private higher education network focused on nurturing the next generation of African leaders and professionals. MANCOSA serves as an innovation hub for undergraduate and postgraduate management, offering 50 accredited programmes. A selection of Executive Education Short Learning Programmes is also offered to meet the requirements of professionals in both the private and public sectors. See: www.mancosa.co.za
For queries or additional information call 031 300 7200, email [email protected] or visit https://www.mancosa.co.za/.
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Honoris United Universities is the first and largest Pan-African private higher education network committed to educating the next generation of African leaders and professionals able to impact regionally in a globalised world. Collaborative intelligence, cultural agility and mobile mind-sets and skills are at the heart of Honoris’ vision of higher education. Honoris United Universities joins the expertise of its member institutions to develop world-class African Human capital that is competitive in today’s fast-paced, demanding and increasingly digitised labour and start-up markets.
Honoris United Universities gathers a community of 57,000 students on 70 campuses, learning centres and via on-line, in 10 countries and 32 cities. The network counts 14 institutions: multidisciplinary universities, specialised schools, technical and vocational institutes, contact, distance, and online institutions. Students have an opportunity to experience exclusive partnerships and exchange programs in more than 85 universities across Europe and the United States. Over 300 degrees are offered in Health Sciences, Engineering, IT, Business, Law, Architecture, Creative Arts and Design, Media, Political Science and Education.
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