With a lack of domestic business schools offering accredited MBA programs, African applicants are looking to higher quality institutions elsewhere. According to GMAC’s 2015 prospective students survey, 81% of African MBA applicants intend to study outside their country of origin.
The majority are women. Out of the 5,265 Africans who took the GMAT in 2015, 2,271 were women; over 56%. While the US remains the top destination for international MBA students across the board, many African women are joining more affordable, one-year programs in Europe.
Most schools offer scholarships for women and based on country of origin, although many students seek funding from Prodigy Finance; a community-funded and MBA-founded provider of international student loans.
We spoke to six African women at six top European business schools who told us why they chose Europe for their MBA, and offered advice for others looking to do the same.
Onyekachi Eke, IE Business School, Spain, MBA cost: $73,000
Onyekachi is an IE MBA grad from Nigeria, now head of IE’s Nigerian office in Lagos.
I wanted an MBA program with as much diversity as possible to enhance my learning experience. Spain has top-ranked schools which offer diversity among student body and faculty not really seen in the US. Also, the programs are generally shorter, meaning less time away from work and a possible greater return on investment.
Initially I felt like a fish out of water. I arrived in Spain in winter, the language was different and I was now in a “minority.” However, within two months I had adjusted better to the unfamiliar surroundings. Learning at least the basics of the language and connecting with a fellow student also coming from your country before you arrive helps.
Kemi Onabanjo, INSEAD, France, MBA cost: $83,000
Kemi worked for McKinsey in her native Nigeria prior to her MBA.
Europe is closer to Africa than the US. African countries are former European colonies and a lot of foreign investment in Africa comes from Europe, so there are more Africa-focused career opportunities.
I chose INSEAD because I knew that the school’s focus on, and practical approach to, entrepreneurship would prepare me for a role in supporting entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa.
Relocating to France wasn’t too difficult. The biggest challenge was coping with the winter! I also struggled a bit with the language, but I took it as an opportunity to finally learn French, and I did.
My advice is to immerse yourself completely in the experience. Ask lots of questions and have an open mind to learn about your new home; the culture, the language, the idiosyncrasies.
Maryanne Wanjohi, EMLYON Business School, France, MBA cost: $45,000
Maryanne is a Kenyan MBA grad working for a food services firm in Paris.
The MBA means a lot to me. It was a very big move and a huge investment.
It’s not easy to relocate anywhere in the world. You go through the highs and lows of adjusting to new things like administration processes, social security, visas and accommodation. And you realize documents you never needed in your own country are now important.
But studying outside your own country gives you an advantage, preparing you to handle different cultures and look at a much bigger picture than you ever thought was possible. Borders are opening up, companies are looking to expand internationally, and with this, they’re looking for people with good exposure and an international mindset.
Nebi Ebinum, Aston Business School, UK, MBA cost: $37,000
Nebi is a Nigerian MBA student with a background in finance.
I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to progress to a managerial level. The quality of education in Europe is really high and ultimately gives a competitive advantage in the job market globally. It also gives Africans the opportunity to experience different cultures and experiences.
I advise people coming over here to keep an open mind. Focus on your studies but at the same time, have a social life to ensure a good balance. Try to get to know people, learn the culture and just enjoy the experience. There’s so much to learn!
Khanya Vokwana, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, MBA cost: $48,000
Khanya is a South African strategy consultant starting her MBA adventure. She lived in the Netherlands for several years after relocating to Europe.
I wanted access to opportunities in Scandinavia. Nordic countries have a high emphasis on work-life balance and at this stage of my career, with a young family, working 16 hour days in consulting is no longer feasible.
Moving to a new country is always a challenge; you’re experiencing a new language, new way of doing things and it can be quite overwhelming. A simple thing like buying groceries can suddenly feel like rocket science.
Learn a bit of the language before you land, be open and adventurous; people are always more than happy to help you figure it all out. Accommodation in Copenhagen is pretty hard to find, and you need an address for all your basic paperwork. So the sooner you get started with the house hunt the better.
Ivy Musora, Maastricht School of Management (MSM), Netherlands, MBA cost: $32,000
Ivy is a Zimbabwean MBA student with a background in sales.
Maastricht provided the multicultural study environment I was looking for, as well as ease of access to other European countries.
I would advise potential MBA students to venture out of their comfort zones to continents they are not familiar with. In such a competitive global environment, it’s necessary to equip oneself with a global mindset and global work experience to be able to survive. With an MBA in Europe, I’ve gained experience of working in a multicultural environment, over and above what I’ve experienced in Africa.
While I have found the program very demanding in terms of time and effort, it’s made me more competitive in the job market.