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Europe’s Business Schools Are Bending Over Backwards To Attract African MBAs

Despite widespread demand, the African applicant pool is small

Mon Sep 19 2016

Demand for African MBA applicants is high. Business schools want to diversity their classes and they know African talent can be formidable once they get individuals on their programs.

Yet the African applicant pool is small. The number of GMAT-takers over the past five years has stagnated, and the average GMAT score for African applicants lags well behind the global average. At London Business School (LBS), African MBA students make up less than 5% of the class.

“We’d like to see more candidates applying,” says MBA admissions director David Simpson. “With Africa, a lot of it comes down to financial aid and scholarships. If we’re interested in making a difference, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

A full-time MBA at LBS costs over $90,000. With economic growth, there is increasing demand for graduate business education in Africa. Yet for Africans looking to high-quality, accredited MBA programs in Europe, affordability is key.

LBS works with p2p loan provider Prodigy Finance, whose post-graduate loans are opening up opportunities for international students. It also has its own general scholarships which, David admits, African students do proportionately well in securing.

And LBS MBAs are taking matters into their own hands. French 2016 grad Romain Assunção was the first non-African president of the school’s Africa Club.

During his tenure, he connected African MBAs with executives at Bain and McKinsey, set up an early scholarship fund for African masters in management applicants, and held the largest ever LBS Africa Business Summit attracting 550 attendees.

Romain had 35 African LBS students in his team, of 17 different nationalities. But he says it’s not enough. “The major blocks are around the cost and having access to information. How do I get in, what’s the profile they’re looking for; that’s what we’re trying to address with the club.”

Four miles across London, Cass Business School is in the same situation, with not more than 5% of its full-time MBA class from Africa. And most from the usual Sub-Saharan suspects; South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Although this year it welcomes a Senegalese student; the result of a targeted regional scholarship.

While scholarships are crucial, some schools are engaged in more direct outreach. IE Business School’s Nigerian office in Lagos supports local applicants at each stage of their MBA journey; with financial planning, visa support and test prep.

It’s had some success. The Spanish school has 30 Nigerian students on its MBA program and 60 alumni. “There is an increasing number of MBA applicants due to more awareness about IE and an increase in financing options,” explains IE alumna and head of the Nigerian office Onyekachi Eke.

Maastricht School of Management (MSM) is a Dutch school with extensive links to emerging markets. Although the Netherlands Fellowship Program - a Dutch government scholarship which once ensured easy access to African MBA applicants – faces continued cuts in funding, still roughly a third of MSM’s full-time MBA students come from Sub-Saharan Africa each year.

“We go to great lengths to help them obtain scholarships and get them into the program,” says the school’s South African dean Wim Naudé.

“When students from Africa come to MSM, they tend to do very well,” he continues. “They’re motivated to make a success of their careers, and they have an acute awareness of the importance of the role of business in development and in supporting communities in Africa.”

MSM’s impressive list of African MBA alumni include the governor of the Central Bank of Rwanda and an impactful graduate who received the 2012 STARS Impact Award for helping to combat female genital mutilation in Ethiopia.

Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School is another European institution dealing with government cuts on scholarships. Yet it is gaining traction within Africa.

“We’ve been going to South Africa and Kenya and we hold one-to-one meetings with students," says South African admissions manager Thuli Skosana. “A lot of our teaching is by doing, and the more varied the experience of the cohort, the richer the learning.”

Diversity is the key for all Europe’s top b-schools. And despite the obstacles in reaching out to Africa, David is positive about the future.

“We’re not going to see a tenfold increase in two years, but the only way is up,” he says. “When you look at the continent and the global investment and corporations coming in, the very best will want to have highly talented local employees to help them do business.

“Those employees will have to be trained at accredited, high quality institutions and have the skills and network that the companies need.”