Private Business Schools: No Rewards for Research, but MANCOSA Gains Momentum

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A recent feature published in the Financial Mail: Ranking the MBAs (September 2019) has highlighted a key constraint to research and knowledge production in the country. The feature focused on business schools’ flagship programme, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and delved into the vital elements associated with each school’s offering to the market.

Currently, the South African Higher Education system rewards public universities for research outputs such as articles in journals and conference proceedings, whilst private higher education providers, including private business schools, are left to their own devices to stimulate and produce new knowledge through research. Research is a critical driver of economic development and it is not surprising that those countries which are at the frontiers of knowledge production through research, prosper economically, socially and technologically.  Yet in South Africa, evident constraints limit the extent to which all knowledge producers can contribute to knowledge systems, with private HE providers receiving zero research subsidies, whereas some universities receive up in excess of R100 000 per research output.

Associate Director for Research at the MANCOSA Graduate School of Business, Mr Paresh Soni, says that in order to deliver a cutting-edge curriculum that is relevant for the 21st century, research had to be prioritised at MANCOSA.

“As a private business school, we are continuously seeking to provide education that is capable of enhancing our graduate’s employability…and research is central to that mission.”

During 2018, the MANCOSA Graduate School of Business was the most productive amongst 6 private business schools, with 50 research publications – even surpassing the output of 5 other public business schools.

However, Soni opines that the current research incentive model that prevails in South Africa, is not sustainable. “Whilst we have managed to achieve our objective of making a meaningful contribution to the country’s knowledge base, will MANCOSA and other private business schools have to continue to fund their own research? There is an urgent need for government to support the earnest endeavours of private higher education providers in the production of new knowledge…Business school research plays an integral part in promoting best business practice and in this regard, research emanating from public and private business schools should be valued”. Soni further stated that

“private business schools like the MANCOSA Graduate School of Business would probably continue to make valuable contributions to knowledge through their own funding, but in order to improve South Africa’s’ global competitiveness and impact national development, the public funding model has to include private providers”.

South Africa’s output of articles and review articles in the Web of Science increased from 3 668 publications in 2000 to 15 550 in 2016. This increase represents an average annual growth rate of 2.9%. It also shows that South Africa’s share of world output more than doubled from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.91% in 2016. As far as country rank is concerned, South Africa has improved its ranking in the world: from position number 34 in 2000 to 28 in 2016.

Dr Connie Israel from the MANCOSA Graduate School of Business’ Academic Publishing Unit, is immensely proud of its research output as a private business school. The strides being made by MANCOSA attest to its commitment to develop a strong culture of research at a time when we are being overtaken by global technological change at the most rapid rate ever, when the needs of industry and the private sector compel our attention, and when the public-private HEI debate is fast gaining prominence. Repeated calls are being made for HE curricula to respond and transform to meet the challenges of 4IR. But HEIs, she says, whether public or private, cannot focus on curricula, or teaching and learning methodologies, in isolation from research. It is with research that change begins, or should.

At MANCOSA, an operating principle is to adapt the entire enterprise to the needs of the times, without compromising quality (if anything, standards and quality are being improved daily, given the scrutiny of CHE reviews). Its drive to establish, enable and enact the research agenda is evidenced by an established Research Directorate (unique for a private HEI); a Doctoral Research Programme; its Research Academy, which supports researchers through workshops and consultations; an academic peer review group and other research resources such a digital research newsletter. Its Academic Publishing Unit encourages alternative opportunities for publishing, and exemplifies research outcomes through its own academic journal, the Journal of Management and Administration (JMA). While it offers incentives to researchers who publish, the costs of publishing, in an arena fraught with the threats and dangers of predatory journals, are staggering. Moreover, it must create platforms and opportunities for emerging researchers to grow their competencies, through conference attendance and participation.

As a business school, the majority of MANCOSA’s students engage in research which speaks directly to the imperatives of skills development, job creation, in South Africa.  With the same regulation being imposed on public HEIs and private HEIs, the latter should not be deprived of a research subsidy, if the capacity to contribute to knowledge production exists.

With regard to research and scholarship, and private HEI status in South Africa, we know that a collaborative relationship exists in some instances between public and private HEIs, and that others continue to face historical challenges, despite being bastions of post-apartheid redress themselves. These are the challenges of the 21st century.

Image adapted from: Financial Mail: Ranking the MBAs (September 2019)